Trump courts Mideast allies to mend ties frayed under Obama, says ex-US ambassador

Key Points
  • Trump leaves Friday afternoon on his eight-day foreign trip, looking to put the tumultuous week in Washington behind him.
  • President Trump needs to rebuild self-inflicted, strained relations in Europe, says Nicholas Burns.
  • The former U.S. ambassador to NATO warns the president to "restrain" the tweets.
Amb. Burns: As Americans we should hope that the president is successful on this trip

President Donald Trump's first overseas trip since taking office is all about rebuilding relationships that were strained in Europe by his own proclamations and in the Mideast by the Obama administration, said Ambassador Nicholas Burns, whose 27-year career in foreign service spanned both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Stopping first in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and then in Israel on Monday, President Trump is going to engage in a "tightening up of American policy" against a common foe, Iran, said Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and the State Department's third-ranking diplomat during George W. Bush's presidency.

"I think you're going to see a bigger effort by the United States to promote arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to the other Gulf states, [and] to help Egypt and Jordan cope with this as well as Israel," he said on "Squawk on the Street."

Ties with Israel and the Saudis and other Mideast allies were "frayed in the Obama administration," Burns said. But to be sure, he added, Trump faces the same difficulties in the region as President Barack Obama.

"You're seeing the United States struggle with the instability and the violence produced by the Arab revolutions of 2011."

Self-inflicted wounds

But Burns said Trump has his own self-inflicted wounds to overcome in the broader Muslim world due to his campaign rhetoric and executive orders aimed at restricting entry into the U.S. by people from certain Muslim-majority nations. Those travel bans were blocked in the courts.

Trump needs to speak "in a more positive way on behalf of the American people about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world," said Burns, who also advised Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton on foreign affairs.

Toward the end of his trip, President Trump attends the NATO summit in Belgium, where he may face some disgruntled European leaders, Burns said.

"His 'America First' agenda has riled the Europeans, because President Trump is seen as someone who has diminished the European Union, rooted for Brexit, and said some positive things about Marine Le Pen," the far-right candidate who lost in France's presidential election, Burns said. Trump "has a test to prove that he can do what every American leader since Truman has done: support Europe, support European unity, support NATO."

Going into the trip, Burns said he's encouraged by Trump's seemingly good meetings at the White House and at Mar-a-Lago in Florida with foreign leaders. But the former ambassador is warning the president to "restrain" the tweets because his words will be getting more attention overseas and may be misinterpreted due to cultural differences.

The president is looking to put a tumultuous 10 days in Washington behind him. The firestorm that started last week when Trump fired James Comey as FBI director reached a fever pitch late Tuesday when reports surfaced suggesting Trump asked Comey to "let go" of the investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. The alleged request was detailed in a paper trail Comey kept after Flynn was fired in February.