Israel will be one of Donald Trump's first destinations overseas as U.S. president, the White House revealed on Thursday.
The trip later this month will include "a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world", Trump said in announcing the itinerary Thursday before an audience of USA clergy in the White House Rose Garden.
His announcement came a day after he met the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Senior White House officials said today that President Trump's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Italy will seek to unite the leaders of different nations and religions in the fight against radicalism and intolerance.
Dates were not specified, but it has been reported that the trip will take place in the week of May 21, with the Israel stop on May 22.
"Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam", said Trump, who has frequently been accused of fuelling Islamophobia. But he also notes that "the tension between the White House and the Vatican is not personal, it is about issues".
Analysts highlighted the White House's own purposes in seeking "tangible results in countering radical Islamist ideologies of Saudi Arabia" and "building a framework in the Middle East" to curb the terrorist group Islamic State and Iran.
Saudi Arabia was the driver of the visit there, the officials said, with King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz inviting regional Muslim leaders to meet with the president. "It also lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim".
The trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican is a splashy debut for a president who has, until now, largely avoided major trips outside of Washington.
Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, he is likely to receive a warm welcome in both countries.
Trump said at an April 20 news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni that he was interested in meeting with the pope.
President Trump has promised to protect America's borders, even if that means making a wall.
"Whether he can or can't" achieve what others could not, "it's our job to try", one official said.
Notably, however, the signing ceremony, which Trump scheduled to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, opened with prayers from three clergymen - two Christians and a Jew, but none of them Muslim.
The U.S. president will then head to Italy, where he will meet Pope Francis and President Sergio Mattarella. Senior sources told Reuters that Mr Trump was expected to meet the Pope on May 24. In Twitter-land, they've been portrayed as kind of virtual nemeses, which makes me wonder how they'll get along in flesh and blood.
"Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace", he said, reports the New York Times.
They will also discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, he added. However, a White House readout of the meeting said Trump "raised his concerns" about the issue and "emphasized the need to resolve the issue".
The official explained that the administration expects Saudi Arabia to bring together a number of leaders from majority-Muslim countries in order to discuss common interests as a group.