HONOLULU/JOINT, BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM HAWAII – President Donald Trump paid a solemn visit Friday to Pearl Harbor and its memorial to the USS Arizona, a hallowed place he said he had read about, discussed and studied but had never visited until just before opening his first official visit to Asia.
Trump saluted after entering the memorial following a short boat ride with first lady Melania Trump. They approached a wreath of white flowers — a gift from the couple — and watched as two sailors who stood beside it at attention placed the wreath near a wall of names of the fallen.
Pearl Harbor was the scene of a surprise attack by Japan that plunged the U.S. into World War II, killing hundreds of service members.
After the wreath was placed, the Trumps tossed white flower petals into the waters above the battleship’s sunken hull.
Trump did not speak publicly at the memorial. He said during an earlier meeting Friday with military officials that he eagerly anticipated the visit.
“We are going to visit very shortly, Pearl Harbor, which I’ve read about, spoken about, heard about, studied, but I haven’t seen. And that is going to be very exciting for me,” Trump said at the start of a briefing with leaders of the U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the region.
Trump stopped in Hawaii on the eve of his first visit to Asia. He arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Friday after a daylong flight from Washington. He departs Saturday for Japan, the first stop on the five-nation, 11-day journey that will also take him to South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The president quickly donned a lei after he left Air Force One with his wife, who also wore a wreath of flowers. He signed autographs and gave high-fives to kids who were among a group of civilians and service members that gathered for the arrival.
Trump wasn’t the only attraction to arrive on base. A few in the crowd shouted their admiration for White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“We love you Gen. Kelly,” one person shouted at the retired four-star Marine general who stood several feet behind the president.
Trump was briefed by leaders of the U.S. Pacific Command. The growing threat from North Korea — a crisis that will shadow the entire trip — was expected to be among the topics discussed. Trump was also meeting with the governors of Alaska, Hawaii and Pacific U.S. territories, all potential targets of any successful attempt by North Korea to strike the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor marks the final resting place of more than 1,000 sailors and Marines who were killed on the battleship during the surprise Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Accessible only by boat, the memorial straddles the ship’s sunken hull.
A total of more than 2,300 sailors, soldiers and Marines died as a result of the attack, as well as 68 civilians, according to the National Park Service.
Trump’s trip, ending on Nov. 14, takes him out of Washington at a time when he has been beset by several issues.
These include an intensifying federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, New York’s recovery from an attack earlier this week that killed eight people, and debate over a Republican tax-cut plan that if approved by Congress would be Trump’s first major legislative victory.
The trip began just days after Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was indicted in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and after his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, faced Democratic calls to appear before Congress again to clarify his previous testimony about the campaign’s Russia contacts.
Amid the furor caused by the revelations, the Kremlin said on Friday that a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an Asian economic summit next week was being discussed, and Trump said it might happen.
“We may have a meeting with Putin,” Trump told Fox News. “And, again — Putin is very important because they can help us with North Korea. They can help us with Syria. We have to talk about Ukraine.”
Court documents made public on Monday also disclosed that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty early last month to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The documents cited a March 2016 meeting, when Trump was campaigning for the presidency, and attended by Trump and Sessions, in which Papadopoulos offered to help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.
While Trump tweeted about developments vigorously this week, he told The New York Times on Wednesday that he was “not angry at anybody” about the case and there was nothing to suggest any collusion by his campaign and Russia.
Trump’s plan for an extended absence from Washington has alarmed allies who, after seeing a health care reform bid fizzle, worry the tax effort could suffer without Trump to keep momentum going.
On Saturday, Trump is to fly to Japan and later visit South Korea in search of a united front against North Korea before going to Beijing, where he will push Chinese President Xi Jinping to get tougher with Pyongyang.
Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, make a state visit to Hanoi and end his trip with the Association of South East Asia Nations summit in Manila. Trump told reporters before leaving on Friday that he would spend an extra day in the Philippines.
The last time a U.S. president was in Asia for so long was in late 1991 and early 1992, when President George Bush became ill at a Japanese state dinner.
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