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Where is Trump going on his first foreign trip? President embarks on journey to Middle East, Europe


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WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) - With turmoil enveloping his administration at home, President Donald Trump heads abroad on Friday for a trip the White House hopes will shift focus away from domestic controversies and on to his foreign policy agenda.

Trump leaves for Saudi Arabia on Friday afternoon and will make stops next week in Israel, Belgium and Italy. The trip was billed as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world's major religions while creating face time with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.

But a political uproar in Washington over Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, allegations that he pressed Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the subsequent appointment of a special counsel to look into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties with Trump's campaign threaten to overshadow his trip.

RELATED: Top Trump controversies from his first 100 days

"We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us," the Republican president told a news conference at the White House on Thursday.

The sojourn abroad, his first foreign trip since taking office in January, may or may not help.

Trump is expected to be welcomed warmly by leaders in Riyadh and Jerusalem, but lingering questions over his views on the Iran nuclear deal, commitment to NATO security and skepticism of the Paris climate agreement could generate tension at meetings with European counterparts in Brussels and Sicily.

"It's almost always true that when a president goes on a big foreign trip, especially one that has some important summits ... that that dominates the news and knocks most other stuff out," said Republican strategist Charlie Black.

"Whether by accident or design, this will help him in terms of Russia news for a while."

'MESSAGE OF UNITY'

The White House laid out three purposes for the trip: reaffirming U.S. leadership globally, building relationships with world leaders and broadcasting "a message of unity to America's friends and to the faithful of three of the world's greatest religions," said national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

"What President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity," he told reporters.

SEE ALSO: Joe Biden says he never thought Hillary Clinton was 'a great candidate' in 2016 election race

Trump generated controversy as a presidential candidate with his call that Muslims be banned temporarily from entering the United States. His administration's proposal to limit travel from several Muslim-majority countries is tied up in court.

McMaster said Trump would deliver a speech in Saudi Arabia expressing hope that a peaceful vision of Islam would resonate worldwide.

The national security adviser, who publicly defended Trump this week against allegations that he improperly shared intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting, has a lot riding on the trip himself.

"He's already on thin ice after his attempt to defend the president's discussion of intelligence with the Russians, and he urged the president to do this trip, which may have been a bad idea," said one U.S. official. "It's too long and covers too much ground and too many topics. If it goes badly, no matter who's fault it is, it will be H.R.'s."

Although he kept a grueling schedule as a presidential candidate, Trump is fond of being home at night, often flying back to New York after campaign events to sleep in his own bed. The nine-day trip will be his longest since becoming president.

RELATED: Awkward political moments between world leaders

Awkward political moments between world leaders

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  • President Trump And Prime Minister Trudeau Hold Meetings At The White House
    U.S. President Donald Trump, right, extends his hand to Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S, on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. Trump's pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and his support for a 'major border tax' threatens to disrupt $541 billion in trade between the two countries, potentially driving up costs and crimping profits for some of Canada's biggest companies including Suncor Energy Inc. and auto parts supplier Magna International Inc. Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg
  • RUSSIA-USA/
    U.S. President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • BRITAIN-POLITICS-UKIP
    Outgoinng leader Nigel Farage (L) embraces new leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) Diane James (R) as she is introduced at the UKIP Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England, on September 16, 2016. Diane James was announced as UKIP's new leader on September 16 to replace charismatic figurehead Nigel Farage. Farage made the shock decision to quit as leader of the UK Independence Party following victory in the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. / AFP / Daniel Leal-Olivas (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Vice President Al Gore kisses his wife Tipper Gore...
    377784 02: Vice President Al Gore kisses his wife Tipper Gore after accepting the democratic nomination for President of the United States on the the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, CA, August 17, 2000. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison
  • CANADA-US-MEXICO-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT
    (L-R)Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Barack Obama pose for a group photo with Canada's Parliament Hill in the background during the North American Leaders Summit on June 29, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario. / AFP / Chris Roussakis (Photo credit should read CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • USA-TRUMP/JAPAN
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with U.S. President Donald Trump (R) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
  • US President Barack Obama (C) and US Fir
    US President Barack Obama (C) and US First Lady Michelle Obama welcome Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to the G20 dinner on September 24, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Shaking Hands
    President John F Kennedy of the USA greeting Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev on his arrival for talks in Vienna. (Photo by Ron Case/Getty Images)
  • President Trump Meets With British PM Theresa May At The White House
    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 27: British Prime Minister Theresa May with U.S. President Donald Trump walk along The Colonnade at The White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. British Prime Minister Theresa May is on a two-day visit to the United States and will be the first world leader to meet with President Donald Trump. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
  • TOPSHOT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO
    Cuban President Raul Castro (R) raises US President Barack Obama's hand during a meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. Cuba's Communist President Raul Castro on Monday stood next to Barack Obama and hailed his opposition to a long-standing economic 'blockade,' but said it would need to end before ties are fully normalized. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
  • David Cameron & Nick Clegg Hold Their First Joint News Conference
    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Prime Minister David Cameron (R) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hold their first joint press conference in the Downing Street garden on May 12, 2010 in London, England. On his first full day as Prime Minister, David Cameron has made a series of cabinet appointments including Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have now agreed to lead the country with a fully inclusive coalition government. (Photo by Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool /Getty Images)
  • US-VOTE-REPUBLICANS-CONVENTION
    US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets vice presidential candidate Mike Pence after his speech on day three of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
  • World Leaders Meet On Day Two Of The G-20 Summit
    U.S. President Barack Obama, left, Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, center, and Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, shake hands while posing for photographs during a trilateral meeting at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Brisbane, Australia, on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014. The U.S., Japan and Australia agreed to deepen security and defense cooperation agreements, according to a joint statement released today after a meeting of the three leaders in Australia. Photographer: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top Trump controversies from his first 100 days

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  • USA-TRUMP/

    Day 2: Spicer delivers blistering critique of inauguration coverage

    Trump's first full day in office was marked with a combative statement from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who chided the media for "shameful" reporting about the crowd size at the Inauguration. The impromptu statement, Spicer's first appearance in front of reporters in his new role, set the tone for the administration's antagonistic relationship with the press during the opening days of the new presidency.

    Related: Rewriting the Rulebook — Trump's First 100 Days

    Photos showed crowds much smaller than the turnout for President Barack Obama's Inauguration in 2009, though Spicer claimed Trump's swearing in saw "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."

    (Photo via REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

  • Kellyanne Conway Speaks To Morning Shows From Front Lawn Of White House

    Day 3: "Alternative facts"

    Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, told NBC News' Chuck Todd that Spicer presented "alternative facts" during his statement about the Inauguration crowd size. "You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts," she said in an interview on "Meet The Press."

    "Alternative facts are not facts, they're falsehoods," Todd responded.

    The term quickly went viral and became a catchphrase for the administration's spin on seemingly negative news stories. Conway later defined the term as "additional facts and alternative information."

    (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
  • President Trump Signs Executive Orders On Oil Pipelines

    Day 4: Trump repeats illegal voter claims

    Trump spent the first 10 minutes of a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders lamenting the millions of "illegal" voters that prevented him from winning the popular vote. The debunked claim, which Trump first made after his election victory last November, came as a surprise to lawmakers visiting the White House for an introduction to the new president. Trump won a commanding 304 electoral votes but received about 3 million fewer total votes nationwide than Democrat Hillary Clinton. He attributed the gap to unfounded claims of "illegals" voting.

    (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

  • JFK Immigration Protest

    Days 8 and 9: Thousands protest Trump travel ban

    Trump's directive to temporarily suspend refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. sparked widespread protests and confusion at airports around the country and the world. Some refugees and immigrants, including those with green cards, were barred from entering the country as officials struggled to make sense of the order. Protesters gathered at airports around the nation to voice their opposition to the ban. Federal judges later blocked the order, leading the administration to revise and re-sign it weeks later.

    (Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

  • Nikki Haley Sworn In As United Nations Ambassador

    Day 10: Steve Bannon gets seat on National Security Council

    Trump's chief political strategist Steve Bannon was given a seat on the "principles committee" of the National Security Council, a position normally reserved for generals. The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence were downgraded as a result. Bannon would later be removed from the NSC on April 5, with those two positions being added back along with Secretary of Energy and former Texas governor Rick Perry.

    (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Justice Department, EPA Announce $15 Billion Settlement In VW Emissions Fraud

    Day 11: Trump fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates

    The Trump administration "relieved" acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she issued a Justice Department directive to lawyers not to defend Trump's travel order. Yates served as deputy attorney general in Obama's administration and stayed on as former Sen. Jeff Sessions awaited confirmation.

    (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

  • White House Reacts To Ruling On Immigration Ban

    Day 15: Kellyanne Conway cites the 'Bowling Green Massacre'

    Top adviser Conway became a punchline for citing the "Bowling Green massacre" when sticking up for Trump's immigration order. Though no such massacre took place, Conway said she meant to refer to terrorists discovered living in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

    (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Donald J. Trump

    16. Trump dings 'so-called judge' in tweet

     

    The president questioned the legitimacy of a federal judge who temporarily halted his immigration order. "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump tweeted.

    Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, called the comments "disheartening" during his confirmation hearing more than one month later.

  • USA-TRUMP/FLYNN-RESIGN

    Day 25: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns

    Flynn abruptly resigned Feb. 13 after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other senior White House officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn admitted to giving Pence "incomplete information" about a phone call in which he and the Russian official discussed U.S. sanctions against Moscow after the election. The VP had defended Flynn in television interviews, claiming the retired Army lieutenant general did not speak with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the sanctions that President Obama had imposed in response to Russian meddling in the presidential election. The Justice Department informed the White House about Flynn's communication on Jan. 26, but Pence was not made aware until Feb. 9, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

    (Photo via REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

  • Food Workers Protest Andy Puzder's Labor Secretary Nomination

    Day 27: Trump's pick for labor secretary withdraws nomination

    Andy Puzder, the head of CKE Restaurants, withdrew his nomination to head the Labor Department after coming under scrutiny from senators on both sides of the aisle. It's not uncommon for presidents to fail to get all their top choices confirmed to the Cabinet, but Trump's appointments have come at a glacial pace.

    (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Gender-neutral wasrooms

    Day 34: Administration revokes transgender bathroom guidance

    The Trump administration reversed the Obama administration's guidance to public schools that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. The move was met by outrage from advocates of the LGBTQ community.

    (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

  • US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-INTELLIGENCE-SESSIONS

    Day 42: Sessions recuses himself from Russian investigation

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigation into Russian interference with the U.S. presidential election. The new attorney general had come under scrutiny after it was revealed he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 campaign. Sessions, a top surrogate during Trump's campaign, did not disclose the meeting during his Senate confirmation hearings. Sessions said he did nothing improper but sought to avoid the perception of a conflict.

    (Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Donald J. Trump

    Day 44: Trump tweets that Obama had Trump Tower 'wires tapped' 

    The president set off a political firestorm by tweeting out the explosive claim that Obama conducted surveillance on Trump Tower during his 2016 run. Trump has not backed down from the accusation, though the White House has yet to present proof of what the president meant. Rep. Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, came under fire for claiming to have seen evidence that could support Trump's claims. He later recused himself from the probe after members on both sides of the aisle questioned his impartiality. FBI Director James Comey refuted Trump's claim while testifying to Congress.

  • Tillerson, Kelly And Sessions Announce New Immigration Executive Order

    Day 46: Second immigration order unveiled

    The Trump administration unveiled a second edition of the controversial travel ban. The new ban removed Iraq from the list of countries impacted and does not affect those who currently have green cards. However, the revised ban was also blocked by federal judges.

    (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • TOPSHOT-US-GERMANY-TRUMP-MERKEL

    Day 57: German Chancellor Angela Merkel's awkward visit

    Trump repeatedly knocked German leader Angela Merkel on the campaign trail, setting up what amounted to an awkward first visit to Washington. After an uncomfortable photo-op in the Oval Office, the two leaders further displayed their frosty relationship in a joint press conference. The crowning moment came when Trump received a question about his wiretapping accusations against Obama. "At least we have something in common, perhaps," Trump responded, referencing U.S. efforts under Obama to monitor Merkel revealed in documents made public by Edward Snowden.

    (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • House Intelligence Committee

    Day 60: FBI head confirms Trump, Russia probe

    FBI Director James Comey confirmed to Congress the bureau is investigating links between President Trump's campaign and Russia.

    (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

  • WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: House Speaker Paul Ryan announced th

    Day 66: Trump knocks house conservatives 

    After a White House-backed plan to replace Obamacare failed in Congress, Trump knocked the House Freedom Caucus in a tweet. The group is comprised of some of the most conservative members and was largely expected to be among Trump's top supporters when he entered office. But their objections to provisions in the Republican healthcare plan ultimately doomed the legislation and Trump warned "we must fight them, & Dems" in the midterm elections.

    (Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice Discusses Administrations Approach To Cuba

    Day 76: Trump suggests Susan Rice committed a crime

    Trump took unprompted shots at former national security adviser Susan Rice in an interview with The New York Times that was meant to be focused on infrastructure. He suggested Rice committed a crime by attempting to uncover the identities of Trump aides whose communications had been collected by intelligence agencies. "I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it's a massive, massive story. All over the world," Trump told The Times.

    Rice later denied the charges. "The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes, that's absolutely false," Rice told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

    (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • US-POLITICS-TRUMP-SECURITY

    Day 85: An end to White House visitor logs

    The Trump administration announced an end to the public release of the names of White House visitors that began under President Barack Obama. The administration attributed the change in policy to "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns" and said that the Obama administration had only selectively released names anyway.

    (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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