Trump to embark on maiden visit to Vatican, Israel, Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump, accompanied by GOP House members, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 4, 2017, after the House pushed through a health care bill.

The swing through the Middle East, added to a trip that includes a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Brussels on May 25 and the Group of Seven summit in Sicily on May 26, suggests Trump is seeking to reinforce alliances with top United States allies in the region.

White House officials told Politico that U.S. President Donald Trump will fly to Israel before he attends the G-7 summit in Sicily on May 26.

The announcement of Trump's trip comes a day after meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, where Trump touted his renewed desire for Middle East peace, saying, "It's something that, I think, is frankly maybe not as hard as people have thought over the years".

Senior administration officials said Trump will meet with Pope Francis during his visit to Vatican City on May 24.

In a video of the pontiff's prayer intentions for February, the pope did not specifically refer to the president or his policies but expressed concern about large numbers of people who Francis said were being marginalized on the fringes of society.

Mr Trump on Wednesday hosted Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas at the White House, pledging to help end the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Trump said at an April 20 news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni that he was interested in meeting with the pope.

Officials say the Saudis started the conversation after the election - saying they saw opportunities with Trump and his vision. When asked if he preferred a one-state or a two-state solution, Trump said, "I'm happy with the one they like the best", referring to both Israelis and the Palestinians.

Aides described the decision to make Saudi Arabia the coveted first presidential stop as an effort to reset relations with the Muslim world. A senior administration official said Arab leaders had told the administration they felt abandoned in recent years, and had told them this visit would be a historic opportunity. "We are hoping to achieve peace between now and then", the official said.

Trump is expected to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives Dina Powell.

"For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful", Trump said, calling himself a "good Christian".

Criticising the billionaire's anti-immigrant rhetoric, the Pope said: "Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian". Trump can leverage both into pushing for enough concessions to get talks restarted, while also giving Netanyahu assurances that his administration will have Israel's back more than the previous one.

Since foreign travel by a sitting USA president became routine, most went overseas quickly after taking office - even if only as far as Mexico or Canada. "America's large disengagement from some of these problems has aided and abetted those who were really fomenting violence and perpetuating human suffering across the Middle East in particular", the official said.

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