5/19/2017 11:36:00 AM Trump takes first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration imposed its first terrorism sanctions jointly with Saudi Arabia today as President Donald Trump travels to the kingdom on his first overseas trip.
The State Department announced sanctions on senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieddine and Muhammad al-Isawi, a leader of the Islamic State group’s operations on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
Saudi Arabia joined the U.S. in targeting Safieddine, who is said to oversee the financial empire of the Lebanon-based party.
“As a result, any of his assets held in Saudi Arabia are frozen, and transfers through the kingdom’s financial sector are prohibited,” the State Department said in a statement.
Hezbollah is close to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for power in the region, and has played a key role in boosting the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. The Saudis also accuse Iran and Hezbollah of fanning the war in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels.
Hezbollah, which has members in Lebanon’s parliament and Cabinet, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
Also today, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Yemen-based tribal leaders, Hashim Muhsin Aydarus al-Hamid and Khalid Ali Mabkhut al-Aradah.
It said the two men facilitated the transfer of weapons and money and the movement of people in support of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted attacks against the U.S.
The Trump administration said the four men have “committed, or pose a serious risk of committing, acts of terrorism” and threaten U.S. national security.
In all cases, the sanctions work to restrict those targeted from accessing funding or property.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh on Saturday morning.
Trump’s maiden international trip, a five-stop marathon across the Middle East and Europe, has long loomed as a crucial first test abroad for the president.
He tweeted this morning: “Getting ready for my big foreign trip. Will be strongly protecting American interests - that’s what I like to do!”
Each stop comes with high stakes.
In Saudi Arabia, the president will deliver a speech to the Islamic world meant to be a clear contrast with the vision Obama laid out in his first trip to the region.
In Israel, Trump will meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Rome, the president will call upon Pope Francis, the popular, liberal-minded pontiff.
In Brussels, Trump will attend a meeting of NATO, the World War II-era alliance which Trump has repeatedly mused about abandoning because member states weren’t paying their fair share. He recently has shifted to reassure wary allies that he remains committed to the pact.
And in Sicily, the president will meet with the other leaders of the G7, a gathering of Western economic powers.
Trump’s itinerary is heavy with religious symbolism. He’ll visit the birthplace of Islam, the Jewish homeland and the Vatican. Officials say the message is “unity.”
“He strongly believes that it is the strength of the faith of people in these religions that will stand up and ultimately be victorious over these forces of terrorism,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
Administration officials believe the unexpected move of going to Saudi Arabia first was meant to underscore the seriousness of the United States’ commitment to fighting extremist groups like the Islamic State. Trump, whose denunciations of Iran have been welcomed by the Saudis, wants to frame the conflict not as one between the West and Islam, but simply between good and evil, according to his aides.
“Welcome to the White House abroad,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s former press secretary. “This is a great opportunity for the president to change the subject, to make real news. But the downside is that it could be dominated by domestic-style questions. ... Every first trip is over-scrutinized. The whole world is watching.”