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Politico

President Donald Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia, followed by Israel and the Vatican, in his first foreign trip later this month. The Vatican visit will include a meeting with the Pope, according to a senior administration official.

Trump cast the trip as “historic” and a way to promote religious tolerance in remarks at an executive-order signing in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. The visit to Saudi Arabia, he said, will include a “truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world.”

“Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies, to combat extremism, terrorism and violence,” Trump said, “and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries.”

“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” he said.

Trump’s tour will conclude with stops at a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 and at the G-7 summit in Sicily the following day.

The first foreign visit is typically a milestone for a new president. The stakes are high for White House staff, who are seeking to firm up alliances overseas.

The president’s Vatican stop comes after months of public back-and-forth on immigration with Pope Francis. During the presidential campaign, the pope seemed to question Trump’s professed Christian faith, telling reporters, “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump responded by charging that the remarks were “disgraceful” and said he “liked the pope” before he heard them. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said at a campaign rally.

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” said Trump.

Since Trump’s inauguration this year, Pope Francis has continued to criticize the president and his agenda, if indirectly. In February, he urged an audience at the Vatican “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good” and again suggested that Trump’s behavior was not in line with the values of Christianity.

“A Christian can never say: ‘I’ll make you pay for that,’” Francis said, according to the Guardian, in remarks interpreted as a reference to Trump’s claims that Mexico will pay for his proposed border wall. “Never! That is not a Christian gesture. An offense is overcome with forgiveness, by living in peace with everyone.”

More recently, at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Trump mentioned his interest in meeting with the pope.

Last week, Israeli officials confirmed that they’ve been in talks with the White House about arranging a visit to Jerusalem.

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