In Trump’s private moments, it’s small talk
Jerusalem — What do world leaders talk about when they are alone? Not much, it seems.
President Donald Trump spent part of his two-day visit to Israel with open microphones nearby, giving the world a small glimpse into his private banter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between official appearances.
They chatted about paint on the walls, their wives and where to stand during a ceremony. And they exchanged compliments — lots of compliments.
This presidential small talk provided just some of the memorable moments of Trump’s swing through the Middle East, the first stop on his first overseas trip as president. There was an awkward Saudi sword dance, an airport selfie with a pushy Israeli lawmaker and a possible snub by Melania Trump.
With Trump now in Rome to meet the pope, here is a look at some of the highlights:
—The Orb: While Trump’s speech before Muslim leaders grabbed headlines, the buzz on social media was the image of him, Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi with their hands on a lighted sphere to mark the opening of state-of-the-art counterterrorism center in the capital, Riyadh. Some joked it looked like the orb from Woody Allen’s 1973 film “Sleeper.”
—Always With the Right: In another widely shared moment on social media, Trump and the Saudi monarch are seen drinking traditional Arabic coffee in small cups. Trump is about to take a sip, holding the cup with his left hand — a taboo in the Muslim world — when Salman explains “with the right hand” in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Trump replies: “Always the right hand, right. Always the right hand.” The video has been viewed more than 184,000 times.
—Sword Dance: Taking part in local customs and traditions is a must for American presidents when they travel the world. On Saturday night, Trump and his entourage were treated to a royal dinner hosted by King Salman. The delegation was greeted to a traditional all-male Saudi sword dance. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Saudi king, Trump swayed side to side and briefly joined the groove.
—Golf Cart View: In another part of town, American country star Toby Keith performed with an Arabian lute player at a free, male-only concert in Riyadh. Keith performed cover songs of American classics and steered clear of performing his ballads “Whiskey Girl” and “Beer For My Horses” since alcohol is banned in the deeply conservative kingdom. In a bizarre moment, Trump caught a glimpse of the concert with first lady Melania Trump when, in a golf cart, they slowly rolled past a screen broadcasting it live.
—Pantsuits and Dresses: Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka, sparked an online sensation when she arrived in Riyadh wearing a long-sleeved, billowy navy dress as her blonde hair blew in the breeze. The hashtag “bint Trump,” meaning Trump’s daughter in Arabic, began trending, with one Twitter user even proposing in an online video. Like other high-level female visitors to Saudi Arabia, Mrs. Trump also did not cover her hair while in the kingdom. For her arrival to Riyadh, she wore a long-sleeved, black pantsuit accented with a wide, gold-colored belt and gold necklace.
—Was It a Bow? Trump accepted Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honor and ignited a debate over whether he bowed to the king. King Salman placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud — a gold medal hanging from a long, gold chain — around Trump’s neck hours after he arrived in the kingdom. Trump had to bend down so the king could put the medal around his neck, and that ignited debate over whether he had bowed to the king.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, have all received the award. Republicans — including Trump — criticized Obama for a move during his 2009 visit to Saudi Arabia, interpreting it as an American president subserviently bowing to a foreign dignitary.
—The Selfie: Israel is known for its boisterous and informal behavior, and Trump got a first-hand taste of this at his airport arrival ceremony. Just moments after he landed, a hard-line Cabinet minister asked Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, one of the most explosive issues in the conflict with the Palestinians. Then, a backbench lawmaker who had not even been invited to the ceremony pulled Trump aside for a selfie. With Trump waiting patiently after a camera glitch, and Netanyahu unsuccessfully reaching out to block the scene from unfolding, lawmaker Oren Hazan snapped the shot that made him famous . “Thank you, Mr. President - it was my pleasure!” Hazan tweeted alongside the picture.
—Speak to the Hand. The selfie was not the only time that Trump was caught off guard. As he and his wife Melania walked on the red carpet, he turned and reached out to grab her hand. The expressionless Mrs. Trump, wearing dark sunglasses, appeared to brush away his hand, raising speculation in local media of a possible first family fracas. It happened again in Rome on Tuesday: as the couple emerged from the plane, Trump waved to the crowd and seemed to look for her hand. She quickly moved it away, raising it to her head to brush her hair aside.
—Budding Bromance: Netanyahu had a strained relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. But he appeared to have an easy rapport with Trump, with the two men repeatedly embracing and professing their deep friendship. At the airport ceremony, Netanyahu playfully warned Trump about the confusing protocol. “What is the protocol? Do you have any idea?” Trump asked. “Who knows?” Netanyahu responded with a smile.
—I Share Your Pain: Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, also found common ground with Mrs. Trump. Speaking to the first couple at the airport, Mrs. Netanyahu complained that they were both victims of an unfair press . “The majority of the people of Israel, unlike the media, they love us so we tell them how you are great and they love you,” Mrs. Netanyahu said. “We have very much in common,” Trump said.
—Home Sweet Home. The Netanyahus hosted the Trumps for a private dinner on Monday that began with a brief tour of their official residence. “Welcome to our palace,” Netanyahu said sarcastically. “It’s something very modest ,” his wife said.
The two couples sat at a table as the president signed a guest book. “Thanks to you, we could paint the walls . We got the budget to paint the walls,” Netanyahu said. “All the house is painted for you,” Mrs. Netanyahu added.
Trump thanked Mrs. Netanyahu for arranging a hospital tour with Mrs. Trump, where both women met with a mixed group of Arab and Jewish children. “We kind of make, bring a smile to the children,” Mrs. Netanyahu said. As they all got up to take a picture, Netanyahu boasted that he is serving his fourth term as prime minister and then presented the first couple a gift: a 150-year-old bible.
“It describes what happened here. It all took place here,” Netanyahu said.
“That is really beautiful,” Trump answered.
“It’s a good book. It’s THE good book,” Netanyahu said.
“It’s THE book,” his wife added.