Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Lands in Saudi Arabia on First Foreign Trip; Russia Investigation Continuing; What Constitutes Win for Trump's First Foreign Trip? Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 20, 2017 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[03:00:00]

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The Saudis have put that to one side. His speech here, in the holiest place, the holiest country if you will in Islam, needs to be very nuanced when he delivers a message that says (INAUDIBLE) all the leaders in these -- in these Arab Muslim and region countries here, need to put forth a more peaceful and more tolerant image of Islam.

Certainly the leaders here already believe that they are. So the message will need to be nuanced in that regard. President Trump's visit here in Saudi Arabia is -- will, if it goes to plan, break a record inasmuch as his visit to Saudi Arabia will be the longest of any president.

President Bush in 2008 was here. President Trump will exceed the length of his visit by a couple of hours.

I was here for that and also when President Obama came on his last visit here a year ago. And the contrast for the rollout and reception that was seen being built up in the airport here today compared to last year when President Obama came.

I remember the reporting when President Obama arrived was something of a scandal that the Saudis hadn't sent senior enough representatives to the airport to meet and greet with him.

So the fact that King Salman is out at the airport, now he's an older gentleman, in his 80s now. He may not be out in the sweltering heat here on the tarmac as President Trump goes down the steps; he may be in a VIP reception area waiting for President Trump to arrive to greet him there.

But absolutely. This is a very, very big, warm welcome. We've talked about that over the past day. The flags flying, the U.S.-Saudi flags and the pictures of King Salman next to President Trump at the side of the road. All of that.

This is the embodiment of it, when the king of Saudi Arabia at his age goes out to the airport to greet someone, that's big. President Trump hasn't gotten a lot of sleep on the plane. Today is a relatively light day. He'll meet with the king on a couple of occasions, a brief visit to a museum. He'll meet, we understand, with other members of the government, the

deputy crown prince, the king's son, amongst others. So a relatively light schedule today. The speech, of course, that's tomorrow. And as you say, that is the big part of his visit. A lot of pressure, if you will, on delivering a nuanced message there.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: I think, Nic and Jeremy, I think our American, our international viewers are probably looking at this very differently, because, for American viewers, of course, there's been this barrage of information coming out of the White House, revelations regarding, in many instances, the Russia investigation.

And American viewers will undoubtedly be looking at this and wondering, how does that domestic context play into this foreign trip?

Jeremy, in your sense, does that weaken President Trump in any way?

Does it hamper his ability to make deals or to represent the United States when he's meeting foreign leaders?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly some foreign leaders may be wondering, you know, what the president truly can accomplish with his political capital weakened back at home in Washington.

I don't expect that to affect his one-on-one interaction with the leaders. But one thing to keep in mind is that this is on President Trump's mind as well. He is going to be focused on this idea of all the scandals and controversies that he is facing back home and whether or not he is going to be able to overcome them, what his next move is going to be to fight back against some of these allegations.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: All right, Jeremy, we're watching live pictures on Donald Trump right now.

DIAMOND: -- discussions.

VANIER: We're watching live pictures -- sorry to interrupt -- of President Donald Trump, who's making his way down the staircase. Of course, next to him Melania Trump. And they will soon be touching the soil of Saudi Arabia.

And I do believe that we are seeing, if I'm not mistaken, it's yet to be confirmed, but I do believe that we're seeing the Saudi king about to greet Donald Trump in person.

VANIER: (INAUDIBLE) Saudi Arabia. And Nic Robertson was just telling us an older gentleman. And Nic was speculating perhaps he wouldn't come out in the sweltering heat. Well, there it is, the symbolism. He did.

And he greeted Donald Trump at the bottom of the steps of Air Force One, the king of Saudi Arabia, the president, the new President of the United States, a handshake, a first few words. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

Of course, to comment with this are Nic Robertson and Jeremy Diamond, both of them covering --

[03:05:00]

VANIER: -- the trip, the first overseas trip of the U.S. president abroad.

All right. Nic, it's interesting to watch these pictures. Tell me again. You were telling me about when Barack Obama was greeted here and it was -- it was a different picture from what we're seeing now.

ROBERTSON: It was. There was none of the fanfare. There was an arrival. There was a roster of dignitaries but nothing to the level of the king.

And to just to, if you will, hammer home that point of how much the Saudis are going out on a limb here, with all that baggage that -- political baggage that President Trump brings with him.

They are associating themselves so closely with him. We think of Theresa May going to visit President Trump at the White House. We think of Angela Merkel, how badly that has played for them subsequently and their audiences back at home.

The king is aware of that but he is putting all of that on the line here and everything, all the trouble that Trump leaves behind him, to a degree, to associate himself with him so closely.

There at the foot of the steps, that -is as big a welcome as it gets here. That shows you how important this is to the Saudis. Melania, we notice there, wearing much more deferential clothes than we saw her boarding the aircraft and boarding Marine One and Air Force One before she left the United States.

The king there, perhaps you can see on your screen better than I can see here.

VANIER: Yes, we can.

ROBERTSON: But did he extend his hand?

Did he -- ?

VANIER: Absolutely. Absolutely, they shook hands. It appeared to be a warm welcome.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTSON: A warm welcome but the symbolism of the king of a very, very conservative country, the home of Islam, where women here wear scarves over their heads. Many women cover their faces as well.

That the king reaches out and shakes the hand of the first lady, whose head is not covered -- that's normal here, no female dignitaries visiting this country, they don't cover their heads the same way that local women have to when they're out in public here.

But this is a very big statement from the king. Not just being there, he's very much putting himself at the side of the United States. He's investing a lot of his own political and regional capital in President Trump and the success of what President Trump can do for the region.

And, if you will, you know, if there are problems ahead, serious problems for President Trump, this will reflect on the king. So this is a very bold position that he's taking.

VANIER: So Nic, two things, first of all, don't let me mislead you. I misunderstood your question earlier. I'm no -- I can't guarantee that the king of Saudi Arabia shook Melania Trump's hand. I didn't see that. And we're -- OK. We're looking at the pictures. I'm told that he did.

And, secondly, tell me about -- again, about Saudi Arabia and Barack Obama. You told us about how the welcome was different. The meeting was different. But, of course, there's been a huge sigh of relief in several countries around the region and, notably here in Saudi Arabia, that they are seeing the back of Barack Obama. They are extremely happy about this new president.

ROBERTSON: They feel that he pulled the United States out of the region, that he ceded the territory, number one, to Iran; number two, to Russia. There's a sense that, you know, the way that he pulled forces out of Iraq, it was precipitous. It was too soon. That allowed Iran to develop a stronger hand in Iraq. That's on Saudi Arabia's northern border, a huge concern.

Main regional rival gets more power. That's a worry.

The other worry was that they felt that President Obama didn't have their back. They were -- Saudi is a huge ally of the United States, so was Egypt, so was President Ben Ali in Tunisia. So when the Arab Spring began in early 2001, the Saudis told Ben Ali to stay on in power. They wanted the United States to support him.

The same for Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. That didn't happen. So the Saudis had to do a massive huge recalibration; 21 percent of Saudi GDP this year will be spent on defense.

One of the principle reasons for that is because they lost faith in the United States because of President Obama. They massively upped their spending on defense and security.

They're now the world's third largest security and defense spender. They massively upsized the scale of their defense forces, their interior forces here in this country because they figured that the United States wouldn't stand behind them in a time of crisis and they would need to fight for themselves.

So when President Trump, here is somebody that they hope will reset all of that, will look after their regional interests; and to wit, part of, if you will, the mechanism to bring that point home to President Trump, that the Saudi king, not just sitting on a lot of oil, not just in Islam's holiest country but can bring in here Muslim and Arab and regional leaders on a huge scale, three summits the Saudi -- three summits is how the Saudis are casting this, that --

[03:10:00]

ROBERTSON: -- they can pull in so much regional muscle behind them is a message to President Trump that they're the power brokers. Deal with Saudi. This royal family is effective and you've got their backing and support as long as we can work together. That's going to be the key message.

DIAMOND: And, Cyril, if I can just jump in --

VANIER: Jeremy, just for a second. Jeremy, just a second. We're actually looking at pictures of Donald Trump and King Salman exchanging the first few words as they've now sat down at a terminal of the airport known as the Royal Hall.

And they are currently going to be attending a welcome tea ceremony. So we'll see what that looks like. The President of the United States laughing right now. So apparently some levity in the exchanges as you would expect.

It's all protocol at the moment -- Jeremy.

DIAMOND: Yes. Just to underscore the points that Nic is making here. As far as the foreign policy approach of the Trump administration, I can't emphasize enough the fact that, in the last couple of weeks in conversations with Trump administration officials and on a call with Saudi officials, both have focused on the fact that they are on the same page here, particularly when it comes to Iran.

As Nic is talking about, the Obama administration sought some certain advancement of relations with Iran, not only with the nuclear deal but also looking longer term into the future.

They were really hoping to recalibrate the U.S.'s position in the Middle East to have a foreign policy less Saudi-centric and looking at broader engagement with the Muslim world, engagement that could include Iran as well.

So Saudi officials have been relieved to see President Trump come into office here and emphasize the nature of the threat that Iran poses to the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is something that both sides believe -- truly believe and also making clear that, you know, he is going to reup the U.S.'s defense commitment.

There had been some weapons held back in the Obama administration to Saudi officials due to human rights concerns. Those concerns have now evaporated under this administration.

The second thing to talk about here, as I'm watching these pictures of President Trump coming here to Saudi Arabia, you know, I covered his campaign and the rhetoric that he used during that campaign, particularly about Muslims in the United States and Muslim refugees, to see him now in Saudi Arabia as his first foreign trip is nothing short of striking.

You know, the president you'll -- excuse me.

The president, you will recall, talked about the fact that "Islam hates us."

That is something that the president said in March of 2016 and a few months before that he called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

And I was struck. You know, yesterday working on a story previewing this speech that the president will give tomorrow to potentially reset his relationship with Muslims, I remembered this silent protestor, who came to a Trump rally a month after he called for a ban. Rose Hamid, this woman, wearing a hijab, stood silently a few rows behind the president in the grandstands of this rally.

And just the fact that she was standing there silently elicited massive jeers from the crowd around her. And Trump campaign officials, assisted by police officers removed that woman and kicked her out. And the president talked about the hatred against us, not his hatred, not the hatred of his supporters, but the hatred that America faces, presumably it would seem from the context of that conversation that he was talking about Muslims, of course.

Now we see a president who is trying to get a reset with Muslims as he comes to this country, meeting with the Saudi king who, of course, is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam.

And all of that happening, of course, as the president and his administration continue to defend the travel ban against seven Muslim majority countries back in the United States federal court.

So, of course, all of that is still happening. So there's a lot of irony as the president is meeting with the Saudi king and certainly a lot of tiptoeing and tightrope walking as the president tries to forge stronger bonds with the Saudi king and Muslim partners in the region.

VANIER: We're seeing now the President of the United States and the king of Saudi Arabia leaving the Royal Hall at the airport in Riyadh. They've been sitting down, enjoying their first -- judging by the facial expressions, their first few words together, first verbal exchanges one to one.

Sitting, it should be noted, in front of the portraits of previous Saudi kings. So Donald Trump very much in the House of Saud here. And this is just the beginning of his 48 hours that he's going to spend in Saudi Arabia with major speeches, our correspondents were telling us, expected --

[03:15:00]

VANIER: -- yesterday -- I beg your pardon, tomorrow, speech on Sunday about Islam. We believe Mr. Trump is expected to advocate a more peaceful vision of Islam. Those are the first couple of words that we've had about what we might

expect from the speech. You see Donald Trump there, about to board one of the vehicles, the U.S. vehicles there for him.

He's spending the day meeting further with King Salman, meeting also with the crown prince, that's important and meeting with the deputy crown prince.

Let me turn to James Davis about those meetings, who is following this with us. He's currently in Berlin. He's a dean at the University of St. Galen.

What does that tell us, the fact that Donald Trump is meeting the crown prince and deputy crown prince, when you know how complicated the succession talks can be in Saudi Arabia?

Does that mean to some extent Mr. Trump has to navigate that relationship to avoid any faux pas in the succession talks there?

JAMES DAVIS, UNIVERSITY OF ST. GALEN: Yes, Saudi royal politics are very opaque. The family relationships are complicated and I think the president is wise to cover his bets, to develop as many good relationships as he can.

We don't know who will in the end succeed this king. We have Muhammad bin Nayef, the crown prince, but also who is not a son of the king. But we also have the king's son is the deputy crown prince.

I think he'll be trying to develop as many personal relationships as he can with this new generation. And this new generation of leadership is important because they are trying to move Saudi Arabia, a very conservative monarchy. Many would say he's sort of stuck in the past.

They're trying to move this conservative monarchy into the future. They're trying to slowly expand the rights of women, slowly open the society up to influences from abroad but in a way that's consistent with the continued rule of the royal family.

And it's a difficult act to accomplish at home and the president is going to have to try and navigate those waters as best he can.

VANIER: James, a quick question to you about the -- what may be or may not be a personal relationship between the king of Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump.

Do you think there's just a political connection there and the king is just thinking we're happy to see the back of Barack Obama?

Or do you think, as has been suggested by some analysts, that there actually might be a personal connection?

Because viewed by the king of Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump is a man of money; he is a man who uses his family in politics -- the House of Trump, the House of Saud.

Do you think there's a personal connection there that may help the two countries' bilateral politics?

DAVIS: Well, I don't know if they've developed a personal relationship yet but it certainly -- the approach to politics that resonates with the Saudis, I think the Saudis and Arabs in general really do value personal relationships.

And to the extent that the president can succeed in developing a bond of trust between the king and the American president, I think he will come out of this and see this meeting as a success.

The Saudis, of course, are comfortable with -- as you suggested, with a wealthy man who brings his family with him into the White House, who uses his children to promote his interests and his agenda. That's the way politics works in Saudi Arabia, so this does not seem particularly odd to them.

So I think I would expect not only the president but also the children of the president to be trying very hard to develop their own personal relationships with important members of the royal family and the royal household.

VANIER: Right. And Jared Kushner who is not just the president's son-in-law but also one of his top advisers, was apparently a person who was running point on arranging this trip and he had been in touch with the Saudi crown prince.

James Davis, thank you very much.

We're going to take a short break, some 20, 25, 30 minutes after the President of the United States has arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The handshake, there it is. The welcome for Donald Trump and Melania Trump, handshake for both of them by the Saudi King Salman. We'll take a short break. We're back after this.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:20:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VANIER: White House staffers are focusing on their busy agenda in Saudi Arabia. But a barrage of controversies are following them in their travels.

One day after firing James Comey as head of the FBI, President Trump reportedly spoke about the country's top law enforcement officer in the most unflattering terms.

With the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office, "The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump informed them he had sacked Mr. Comey.

Mr. Trump told the Russians, "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

And sources tell CNN that during the U.S. presidential race, Russian officials bragged about how close they were to Michael Flynn and how they could use that relationship to influence Donald Trump. Listen to Pamela Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Multiple sources tell CNN that Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated such a strong relationship with former Trump adviser Michael Flynn that they believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team.

Now those conversations deeply concern U.S. intelligence officials and it even impacted what intelligence the incoming administration was privy to because some Obama intelligence officials acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn.

A former official tells our Gloria Borger that the way the Russians were talking about Flynn was regarded as a, quote, "five-alarm fire from early on," according to our sources.

And the Russians' conversations indicated they regarded Flynn as their ally. Officials cautioned, though, that the Russians might have exaggerated their sway with Trump's team during those conversations.

Now Flynn's relationship with Russia developed throughout 2016, months before he was caught on an intercepted call in December, speaking with Russia's Sergey Kislyak. That ultimately led to Flynn's firing --

[03:25:00]

BROWN: -- as Trump's first national security adviser.

CNN has reached out to both Flynn's lawyer, who declined to comment, and the White House, who said, "We are confident that when these inquiries are complete, there will be no evidence to support any collusion between the campaign and Russia."

Top former Obama intelligence officials and members of Congress briefed on the matter have all said the same thing -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: So all these controversies have one thing in common and that's Russia.

How's this playing out in Moscow?

Let's go to CNN's Ivan Watson, he's in the Russian capital.

Ivan, I don't believe there's been an official reaction where you are to this latest piece of information in the U.S. But could you give us a general sense of how the Kremlin or how Russia

is reacting to this, the fact of being front and center of all this damaging news for the U.S. president?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, from day one when the scandal and these allegations started to emerge about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, the Kremlin has denied this consistently, saying that this is a political internal affair in the U.S., denying any allegations of hacking in the November 2016 election and also going further, one step further, to claim that this is evidence of an anti-Russian conspiracy in the U.S.

More recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that this was political schizophrenia taking place in the U.S. It is worth noting that the Russian and the Russian -- very heavily Kremlin-influenced media saw Trump as a potential positive figure for Russian-U.S. relations.

It embraced his election and lavished him with a lot of positive coverage. That has largely disappeared from the front pages of Russian newspapers and Russian television, though there is still -- you can sense a positive impression of Trump, somebody who is seen as somebody that potentially could be beneficial to Washington-Moscow relations, while at the same time Russian officials have viewed the negative coverage that has come out of the U.S. as evidence of kind of a deep state within the U.S. government bureaucracy.

Interestingly, that's something that is kind of reflected in right- wing media coverage in the U.S. There are some kind of parallels that you see between some of the Russian state media coverage of these controversies and the right-wing media in the U.S. -- Cyril.

VANIER: Ivan Watson, reporting live from Moscow. Thank you so much.

President Trump will be delivering a speech on religious unity during his visit to Saudi Arabia, which has just begun. But his past comments about Islam and its adherents could undermine his message. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:30:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VANIER (voice-over): Welcome back, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier. It's CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta. Here are the headlines this hour.

(HEADLINES)

VANIER: So let's get more on Donald Trump's first foreign trip and that is to Saudi Arabia. Our Nic Robertson is in Riyadh.

What would constitute a successful trip for Donald Trump?

What does he need to do to be able to come back home and come back with a win?

ROBERTSON: You know, we've been asking ourselves that question here and I think the common feeling is that if he doesn't make a mistake, that if he doesn't make a gaffe.

This is a long trip. We've already heard that he hasn't slept much on the plane, so some of these meetings may be difficult. It will be Saudi Arabia, then it will be Israel.

Things he says in Saudi may influence his reception in Israel. He'll go on and meet with the pope there as well. That may be -- the pope's not going to tell him what to do but that may be an awkward meeting.

He's going to go on and meet with the 27 other NATO leaders in Brussels. That's a meeting where he's going to expect those NATO allies to have agreed to increase their defense spending to levels where the United States is not carrying the heavy -- solely carrying the heavy financial burden of NATO.

And then he's going to go on to the G7, which will be deep and heavy politics.

So this is a long week of intense talk with a huge number of leaders, 27 in NATO, as many as 55 here, seven, obviously including him, at the G7 meeting. So the possibilities there of tiredness, of whatever --

[03:35:00]

ROBERTSON: -- having an impact on something that he says and some piece of a meeting getting out that he would rather not be made public, as we're hearing has been his recent experience in D.C., these are the things that, if he can avoid that, then this will be a success.

For the Saudis, it would be a success if his message to them about tolerance and peace and good and evil is nuanced and calibrated in such a way that they can stand beside him and not feel that this is in any way a negative influence on Muslims as his campaign rhetoric was. That would be a success.

If they can get the United States to agree to support them in their regional ambitions to thwart what they see as Iran's growing influence in the region, then that would be a success leading here in terms of the Saudi view.

The Saudi and the regional view, the Arab Muslim allies here, would be that they would like to see President Trump go to Israel and, in some way, begin to advance a realistic Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That has been a stumbling block for so many presidents before him.

If he can avoid setting himself up for potential failure there down the road, that may also be a success.

So you can see every step of the way, there's a lot that needs to be calibrated in how he speaks and precise words that he uses in how he addresses the issues. And as we've seen with President Trump, that can be a significant challenge for him -- Cyril.

VANIER: And, Nic, President Trump has just been through arguably the worst two weeks of his presidency.

Do his domestic troubles cast a cloud over his first foreign trip or do they stay at home?

ROBERTSON: Behind the closed doors here, it's unclear how they're going to influence the meetings. And to a very large degree, that's going to be the only glimpse that we really get of how the president's meetings have gone.

So far across this whole trip around the world, meeting as many as 50 or so leaders here, as we've talked about, meeting more than 20, 30 or so in Europe, there's going to be no press conference as far as we know.

Perhaps one will be organized but at the moment one isn't built in. So it's going to be very hard to gauge what the president has picked up and what the president has learned during this visit.

So I think it's going to be very hard, you know, to calibrate -- you know, to calibrate any success or failure and to calibrate what this is going to mean for him going forward and to calibrate how much he's been able to put behind him those troubles in Washington.

Because you can be absolutely sure, as soon as he steps in front of a camera here, the first questions are going to be, tell us about what the Russians -- what you said to the Russians. Tell us about this potentially damaging Israeli intelligence that you shared with the Russians.

Particularly difficult question to face if he was facing that inside Israel.

Tell us about -- more about General Flynn, his former national security adviser. Very, very difficult questions for him to answer. But he knows it is getting the politics of it and the investigations of it becoming even more serious in Washington.

If he avoids being in front of the cameras then, yes, to a degree, he can dodge those very, very difficult issues. But anytime that he chooses to speak, that's when it will get tough.

VANIER: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you very much, covering the trip for us in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia.

After Saudi, Israel and the Palestinian territories will be Mr. Trump's next stops. He'll visit several key religious sites in Jerusalem. Those include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, that Western Wall, the Old City.

He's also expected to take part in a wreath laying ceremony at Yad Vashem. That's the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Mr. Trump also has separate meetings scheduled with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

For more on this, let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann, who joins me now from Jerusalem.

Oren, Nic Robertson in Riyadh was telling me really, when Trump lands in Saudi Arabia, he's landing in friendly territory.

When he lands in Israel, he's also landing in friendly territory, isn't he?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so. Remember, it's a Republican president, a Republican Senate, a Republican Congress meeting a conservative government. So this should be an easy trip by all accounts. And yet the Israelis are nervous.

Confusion is a word I've heard used to describe this upcoming trip and that's because the first part of Nic's answer is very relevant here as well. A good trip is no surprises, no mistakes, nothing spontaneous. Make the right statements, take the right pictures.

And then a few Israeli politicians I've spoken with have said, let's just get this trip over with.

And part of the concern there is what --

[03:40:00]

LIEBERMANN: -- moves President Trump might try to make on an Israeli- Palestinian peace process, saying something like two-state solution, Palestinian self-determination or asking for a settlement freeze could be a major problem to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government because he has coalition partners that don't want to see a Palestinian state established.

The more these meetings focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the worse it is for Netanyahu's government. The more it focuses on Iran, the better it is from the Israeli government's perspective.

And the strange reversal of roles, it's the Palestinians who are quite relaxed heading into this meeting. And that's because from their perspective, they've played their cards right. They've done everything they can.

The meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington with Trump went well and now they're presenting a united approach with the other Arab states in Riyadh. They get a chance to speak with Trump before he comes to Israel and the Palestinian territories about an approach to the peace plan.

So they're quite relaxed, the Palestinians. From their approach, this is something they're looking forward to, to present their view of peace.

The hope on the Israeli side, at least when it comes to peace, is that Trump could have used the Arab states to get the Palestinians, to pressure the Palestinians to make concessions. The fear now is the exact opposite, that the Arab States will use Trump to pressure the Israelis to make concessions.

And if that's where this meeting is going and --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: And, Oren, if I can just interrupt you for a second because we're also keeping an eye, as you speak, on the live pictures coming out of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. We just saw the motorcade, presumably of Mr. Trump.

The people that actually came out of the car were Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser along with his wife and also a Trump adviser, his daughter, Ivanka Trump. So we're keeping an eye on the live pictures of the Trump team, the Trump family and Mr. Trump himself, indeed, being welcomed in Saudi Arabia.

And, Oren, what I was going to ask you, because you referred to the peace process, the Middle East peace process. And you're saying the Palestinians are actually quite relaxed about this.

Is there any chance that Mr. Trump sort of gets any traction on this, gets any kind of results or gets anything going on this?

It's been frozen for so long and it was frozen, despite numerous efforts and attempts by the Obama administration.

LIEBERMANN: It's had its fits and starts. The last round of peace negotiations broke down in April of 2014. Those were under former President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. And after nine months, they broke down.

What can we expect from Trump?

The expectations at the beginning they high, a trilateral meeting perhaps between Netanyahu, Abbas and Trump. That would have been a very big deal and would have been a major accomplishment.

But those expectations have been severely scaled back in terms of just trying to get some sort of traction.

It's difficult to see how he could so quickly, because of the mistrust at this point between the sides, but it looks like he's certainly going to make an effort. The speculation here is that the Arab leaders, including Abbas, will present to him the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which is their approach to a peace plan.

The problem is Netanyahu hasn't accepted that. So it will have to be something else or maneuvered in some way to get that to move even a step forward. It won't be big steps, it might be half steps or minor steps.

But any movement on the peace process would have to be seen as a small success for Trump as he tries to do what no president before him has succeeded in doing.

You mentioned there Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, both are observing Jews. Their name comes up a lot here. And yet they haven't had any overt actions when it comes to the peace process. That has mostly been led, that effort has mostly been led by another observant Jew, Jason Greenblatt, a special envoy in the Middle East peace process. And that was interesting because he's had multiple meetings with both sides.

And those meetings, from the perspectives of the Israelis and Palestinians, have been a success. Both say he mostly listened but he listened intently, gathered ideas, asked the right questions. And it will be his input that perhaps guides Trump on what he intends to do on the peace process.

VANIER: All right. We're still looking at the live pictures in Riyadh. We're expecting Donald Trump himself anytime soon to arrive at the hotel, where they're being hosted, Oren.

I want to touch on something you were saying earlier and the potential pitfalls for Mr. Trump during his trip to Israel.

Despite the fact that he's in friendly territory, is there -- is there something he can say that would be a problem with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu?

LIEBERMANN: If Trump comes here and demands a settlement freeze, it will be a problem for Netanyahu and specifically for Netanyahu's government. Netanyahu has some important coalition partners who refuse to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.

And they could very well leave the coalition and collapse the government or attempt to collapse the government.

Now one of the major opposition parties, the Labor Party, has essentially said, look, we don't like Netanyahu but if there's a real move on the peace process, we will absolutely support the government. So it seems as if, if Netanyahu wants to make a move, he can switch up his coalition in such a way --

[03:45:00]

LIEBERMANN: -- that he can pursue some sort of peace process and make certain concessions.

And, there, Trump actually has quite a bit of leverage in terms of the options he has. He can, for example, recognize Israeli control of the occupied Golan Heights. He could move the embassy if he does it sensitively enough. He could release Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel. The terms of his probation don't let him come to Israel.

But if Netanyahu makes a concession and gets Pollard, that would be a big political win for Netanyahu. So it's still difficult for Netanyahu to make concessions to the Palestinians on a peace process.

But Trump has leverage here, especially since he can bring both Democratic and Republican pressure to bear on Netanyahu if he tries to make a serious move here. VANIER: All right, Oren Liebermann, thank you very much.

We're still watching the live pictures coming out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Oren will be right there when Mr. Trump lands in Israel after the first two days of his trip in Saudi. He'll be covering that for us there.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, we'll go to a country that's closely watching Donald Trump's trip abroad but one he will not be visiting. You'll be hearing from Iran -- after the break.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:50:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VANIER: U.S. President Donald Trump, there he is. He just walked out of his vehicle, being welcomed at the hotel where he will be staying for the next two days in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. president on the first leg of his first foreign trip since taking office. Well, his visit is being watched closely across the entire Middle East and there is one key player in the region whose leadership will not be meeting Donald Trump but will be watching the trip intently. And that country is Iran.

We have more now on both Iran and Saudi Arabia; Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Tehran.

And, Fred, you'll have to excuse me if I rudely interrupt you. We're also watching these live pictures.

There you go, the back of the U.S. president, Donald Trump and the Saudi king, King Salman, who are walking into his hotel, Riyadh City Center. All right. Let's go back to Fred now who's in Tehran.

Fred, how is this all being viewed in Tehran?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Iran -- Cyril, Iran is certainly the country that is going to be the subject of a lot of the talks that the president is going to be having, not just in Saudi Arabia but, of course, in Israel as well.

Iran, of course, the great rival of the Saudis in the Middle East and the great adversary of Israel in the Middle East as well. I think one of the things the Iranians will be looking to here is they're going to see what sort of rhetoric is going to be coming out of a lot of these meetings.

So far, I think they've been surprised at how tough the White House has been on the Iranians, some of the talk. I spoke the Iranian leaders here after Donald Trump was elected but before he took office. They said, look, maybe the president Donald Trump is almost the same

as the businessman Donald Trump. Maybe this is someone that we can deal with.

But I think now they're slowly seeing that this White House is going to be very tough on the Iranians and I think that's something that's slowly sinking in. One of the big moments that the Iranians had was when they conducted a ballistic missile test earlier this year.

They were quite surprised at the forceful reaction that they got from the White House after that ballistic missile test. That's something that they're certainly seeing. I think they believe that this president is, one, for them, is still very difficult to figure out.

But they're also seeing that this is going to be a White House that is going to be very, very tough on the Iranians. Of course, that's also something that played into the election that we saw happen here just yesterday and where the results are now just coming in --Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, reporting live from Tehran, the Iranian capital, where Mr. Trump will not be stopping. But as Fred told us, there is going to be a lot of talk of Iran as Mr. Trump discusses the region and regional politics with not just the Saudi king but also other regional leaders.

We're going to take a short break. We're back right after this.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:55:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VANIER: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

As Donald Trump and King Salman continue to meet, it's nearly 11:00 am in Saudi Arabia, where U.S. President Donald Trump arrived a short while ago and it's the first stop in his first overseas trip since taking office.

He is set to meet with the Saudi leader, of course, and other Arab leaders. He'll make a speech about Islam; that is scheduled on Sunday. Later on in his trip he will stop in Israel, Italy and Belgium. CNN teams will be covering the trip for you every step of the way.

That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. Stay with us. We will have more with Donald Trump's first trip overseas right after a short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)