Trump kicks off first foreign trip with upbeat tone, despite brewing scandals

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The Trump administration turmoil briefly seemed a world away as President Trump was greeted warmly in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, 6,700 miles from Washington.

First lady Melania Trump's decision not to wear a traditional head scarf turned heads on social media -- especially since Mr. Trump criticized Michelle Obama for doing the same thing in 2015. Other female foreign dignitaries have also chosen not to.

Of course, that was just one storyline in a day of diplomatic developments in Riyadh.

A day of U.S.-Saudi celebration was capped by Seceretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holding swords as part of a traditional Arabic Ardah dance with Saudi King Salman. 

The president's trip to forge new bonds with the royal family began when Air Force One touched down to find the Saudis trying to iron out finishing touches. A delay left Air Force One without stairs for the first family to descend. Then the stairs and red carpet did not align.

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President Trump greets King Salman after arriving in Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017.

CBS News

But the president and first lady made the best of it, meeting the king and taking in the sounds of cannons and the sight of U.S.-made and Saudi-purchased jets overhead, trailing red, white and blue exhaust.

After ceremonial coffee, ‎Mr. Trump and King Salman rode into Riyadh together.

The leaders signed an agreement on $109 billion in new U.S. arms sales to the kingdom and $200 billion of Saudi-backed investment over four years in U.S. infrastructure projects. Saudi princes posed with numerous U.S. defense industry executives to celebrate.

At a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the president sounded upbeat

"Tremendous investments into the United States and our military community is very happy and we want to thank you," Mr. Trump said. 

No U.S. president has made Saudi Arabia or any Muslim country their first foreign visit. Mr. Trump did so with two over-arching goals: Challenge Iran's military influence in the region, and recruit majority Muslim countries to do more in the battle against ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and north Africa. 

"This growing partnership is really grounded in trust," Tillerson said. "Trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives."

Scandals and investigations followed the president here. Tillerson was asked about a Washington Post report that the FBI had identified a person of interest inside the Trump White House as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"I do not have any information or knowledge regarding the person of interest that's been referenced," Tillerson said. 

En route to Riyadh, the White House did not deny another report that Mr. Trump told Russian officials he fired FBI director because he was "a nut job" and that Comey's dismissal took some pressure off the Russia probe. White House officials hope revelations like that do overshadow Mr. Trump's efforts to re-assert American leadership not just in the Saudi kingdom but throughout the Middle East.