Trump aims to mend Muslim ties on first foreign trip

Trump can expect a warm reception when he arrives in the oil-rich kingdom for talks with King Salman, but the domestic mood was grim following news that the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia extends to a current senior White House official.


Former FBI director James Comey has agreed to publicly testify about the probe, piling pressure on the White House as fresh allegations emerged about Trump calling him a “nut job” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week and saying his sacking had relieved “great pressure”. 

Before departing, the president tweeted he would be “strongly protecting American interests” on his marathon eight-day trip to the Middle East and Europe, that presents a major diplomatic test.

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While his predecessor Barack Obama was viewed with suspicion by Gulf Arab states for his tilt towards their Shiite regional rival Iran, Trump is likely to take a harder line against Tehran.

That, together with a more muted focus on human rights and the likely announcement of new arms deals, should please Washington’s traditional Sunni Gulf allies.

“He’s going to be tougher on Iran,” said Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“He’s not going to lecture them on democracy and human rights,” he added.

Ahead of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will be accompanied by his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, Washington and Riyadh issued their first “joint terrorist designation” – blacklisting a leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese armed Shiite movement Hezbollah.

Late Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it had shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels southwest of Riyadh. 

The US provides weapons, intelligence and aerial refuelling to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Huthi rebels, who are backed by Iran and oppose the government of Yemen President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

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Trump’s relations with the wider Islamic world are still strained by his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations.

So all eyes will be on a speech on Islam that the president is scheduled to deliver to dozens of Muslim leaders at a summit in Riyadh on Sunday.

“I’ll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith,” Trump said ahead of his visit.

Trump wants Gulf states in particular to do more to tackle extremists such as the Islamic State jihadist group.

“He will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those, from ISIS to Al-Qaeda… who perpetuate chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond,” said Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster.

He will hold countless face-to-face meetings including with Pope Francis and France’s new leader, Emmanuel Macron.

It is a trip fraught with peril for the real estate magnate, who is known to dislike lengthy travel.

The avalanche of revelations in the run-up to his departure have eroded Trump’s standing at home – where the parallels with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency are now being openly drawn.

On Friday, a report by The Washington Post that the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties had identified a “significant person of interest” in the White House, undercut Trump’s insistence his election bid had nothing to do with the Kremlin.

The White House was rocked by another bombshell when reports emerged that Trump said his firing of “nut job” Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him due to the investigation.

The scandals have revived questions about his ability to strike a presidential tone with his foreign counterparts, with Trump declaring himself the victim of the “greatest witch hunt” in American political history.

Arms contracts

His visit to the Gulf is expected to bring lucrative arms contracts for US firms.

“The big question mark that you should bear in mind is if Saudi Arabia signs up for a $100 billion arms deal with oil prices where they are today, how are they actually going to pay that in the future?” said Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism expert now with the Brookings Institution.

After Saudi Arabia, Trump will head to Israel and the Palestinian Territories where he hopes to revive the moribund peace process.

He will meet his “friend” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem.

The Israeli leg of his trip is already awash in controversy – from a row over Trump’s visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest prayer site for Jews, to his alleged disclosure of Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.

Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis – two men at odds on everything from climate change to refugee policy – remains highly unpredictable, although the pontiff says he will give America’s bullish leader an open-minded hearing.

The president will also meet members of the North Atlantic alliance in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina overlooking the Mediterranean.

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Sam Mitchell on track for AFL record

He’s already won four premierships and a Brownlow medal, but West Coast midfielder Sam Mitchell will be in a league of his own if he can produce another big performance in Sunday’s AFL clash with Essendon at Etihad Stadium.


Mitchell has reached the 30-disposal mark an astonishing 118 times over his glittering career.

It’s the equal most on record in VFL/AFL history – tying the mark set by St Kilda’s Robert Harvey.

Mitchell has the chance to snare the outright record against the Bombers, and his confidence is high, coming off a 33-disposal match in last week’s win over the Bulldogs.

West Coast coach Adam Simpson said Mitchell’s achievement was remarkable.

And although Harvey took 69 more games to reach the same mark, Simpson pointed out that the St Kilda legend was tagged more often than Mitchell.

“I would assume Harvey would have been tagged every week,” Simpson said.

“I remember tagging him (and he still had) 30-plus a couple of times back in the day.

“It’s a different era, but it’s a fair effort by Sam. It’s a sign of his consistency.”

The Eagles have won three straight games to shoot into the top-four.

And although their form at the MCG remains a concern, they’ve proven they can win on the road after posting triumphs over North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium) and Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval).

Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy had a wayward outing in last week’s win over the Bulldogs, booting 3.6.

Simpson is confident it was just a rare blip for Kennedy, rather than the start of a worrying trend.

“It’s not a pattern,” Simpson said.

“He’s had games where he’s kicked 10 straight.

“He’s probably our best preparer in terms of how he goes about it off field with the mindset and how he prepares for the opposition.

“We’ll back him in to get it right.”

Essendon coach John Worsfold decided to stick with the same 22 who beat Geelong last week.

West Coast resisted the urge to recall fit-again veteran Drew Petrie.

The 34-year-old has made an early recovery from a broken hand, but will have to prove his fitness in the WAFL before earning a senior call-up.

Forward Jamie Cripps is back after recovering from an ankle injury, with fellow goalsneak Josh Hill forced to make way.

Cleaners’ wage fight at Vic ALP conference

Angry cleaners have confronted Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over what they claim is systemic wage theft in the public school sector at Labor’s state conference.


United Voice officials and members held aloft a banner reading “Rip off, Victoria – The Wage Theft State” at the front of the conference in Melbourne on Saturday.

Others waved mock number plates carrying the slogan as Mr Andrews spoke to the crowded conference room at Moonee Valley Racecourse.

While talking about creating more employment opportunities including a new Victorian Jobs Partnership, Mr Andrews didn’t, however, address the issue.

The union says hundreds of “backyard operators” are ripping off state school cleaners with an audit finding 80 per cent are being paid below the award wage.

“We estimate the total wage theft bill to be up to $10 million a year, out of the pay packets of the state’s 4000 school cleaners,” United Voice state secretary Jess Walsh said in a resolution after Mr Andrews left.

Labor members also railed against the government over its plan to get the private sector on board to help roll out the national disability insurance scheme.

Unions and parents are worried that by including the private sector, the quality of worker conditions and client services will decline.

Last November central branch members were stripped of their rights to vote for candidate preselection and conference delegates after a branch stacking scandal and investigation.

A bid to restore those rights on Saturday was unsuccessful.

However the conference did vote to bring in affirmative action measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preselection.

Earlier, when announcing his new Victorian Jobs Partnership, Mr Andrews said there would be a summit of experts to create a new jobs road map.

The talkfest of 50 experts, including 25 from unions, will work to grow local manufacturing, industry assistance initiatives, fill skill gaps and push more women into construction and engineering.

Mr Andrews also pushed the benefits of his CFA split plan.

In order to circumvent a CFA pay deal deadlock, the government announced on Friday it would make the fire service volunteers-only and create a new authority for career CFA firefighters to merge with their metropolitan counterparts.

The conference runs over two days, with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten to speak on Sunday.

Italy law obliges parents to vaccinate

Italy’s cabinet has approved a law obliging parents to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases as politicians spar over a spike in measles cases.


Children up to six years old will now need to be immunised to be eligible for nursery school, and parents who send their children to school after that age without vaccinating them first will be liable for fines.

Vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and meningitis, which were previously only recommended, will now become mandatory, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

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“The lack of appropriate measures over the years and the spread of anti-scientific theories, especially in recent months, has brought about a reduction in protection,” Gentiloni told a news conference in Rome.

The law will also oblige inoculation against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, whooping cough, and haemophilus influenzae type B.

Italy’s Higher Health Institute warned in April that a fall-off in vaccinations had led to a measles epidemic. The United States warned visitors to Italy about exposure to the potentially fatal disease.

The institute has recorded some 2395 measles cases so far this year compared with some 840 in all of 2016 and 250 in 2015.

The website of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive, says it encourages all member states to “ensure that as many children as possible receive the main childhood vaccines”.

Gentiloni’s centre-left government has accused the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of sowing fear among parents by questioning the safety of some vaccines and the scruples of multinational pharmaceutical firms.

5-Star members, who run Rome’s city hall, abstained on Thursday from a vote on obliging schoolchildren in the capital to be vaccinated, stoking fresh controversy over their stance.

“5-Star is riding the wave of disinformation, nourishing fear and favouring a position that is anti-science and dangerous for the whole community,” said Federico Gelli, a deputy from the ruling Democratic Party.

Paola Ferrara, 5-Star’s leader in city hall, said the party had abstained because of the pending vote in parliament, and considered vaccinations “essential”.

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Beach protesters say no to Bight drilling

Ocean-loving protesters have linked hands across the nation’s beaches in a bid to protect the Great Australian Bight from oil and gas drilling.


Hundreds lined the sands at more than a dozen beaches in five states for Hands Across the Sands events on Saturday, including at Melbourne’s St Kilda, Adelaide’s Glenelg and Fremantle’s Bathers Beach.

They called on the Liberal and Labor parties to protect the southern waters and wildlife from the risks of oil and gas exploration.

Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown spoke at the Adelaide event, saying a major oil spill in the Bight would be environmentally devastating.

“The Bight is one of the most intact natural ecosystems left on earth,” Dr Brown said.

“Such a spill here would wreck the South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian coastlines, including the Tarkine.”

Wilderness Society’s SA director Peter Owen said Australia’s major parties must join the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon in saying no to drilling.

“Both major parties seem more interested in imaginary oil and gas industry jobs than the 10,000 real fishing and tourism jobs in South Australia’s coastal regions that would be threatened by an oil spill,” he said.

Hands Across the Sand started in the US after energy giant BP spilled about 800 million litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days, killing millions of fish and an estimated 75,000 dolphins and whales.

The Bight is home to sea lions, migratory birds, sharks, dolphins, giant cuttlefish and dozens of whale species, including an important southern right whale nursery.