European trip puts Melania Trump back on the world stage

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have arrived in Brussels for the first of four European stops in a high-stakes diplomatic visit.

The first lady kicks off her agenda Wednesday participating in a Belgian-hosted event alongside other NATO leaders’ husbands, wives and partners, followed by a ceremony and dinner.

“Well, it’s going to be an interesting time,” the President told reporters Tuesday as he walked out of the residence, the sunglasses-clad first lady standing silently by his side.

And while the first lady isn’t set to give any formal remarks during the trip — which began in Belgium, and includes stops in the United Kingdom, Scotland and Finland — her presence is sure to make headlines of its own.

The Slovenian-born first lady is again on the world stage in Europe — her third trip to the continent since her husband assumed office and her first one overseas since her kidney embolization procedure in May.

While the President has a packed schedule of high-stakes meetings with world leaders, she will also represent the United States to forge diplomatic relationships of her own, including joining her husband for tea with Queen Elizabeth II. Melania Trump has served as an asset during previous trips abroad, earning generally high praise from foreign media.

“She’s looking forward to building relationships and representing the United States. But it’s also very important to her that as she represents our country in a positive way abroad, she also pays respect to the host countries she is visiting,” her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN.

The schedule

The first lady’s schedule during the trip is composed of a combination of appearances alongside her husband and solo outings, which Grisham said will include spousal programs set by the host country and “events focused on both public service and children.”

The first couple touched down in Brussels on Tuesday evening, coinciding with the timing of Belgium’s World Cup soccer match with France.

On Wednesday, Melania Trump will attend a spousal event in Brussels before joining the President for a formal dinner with NATO leaders and their spouses.

The couple then travels to the United Kingdom, spending time in England and Scotland.

Thursday evening, embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, facing a crisis within her own government over Brexit, will host the Trumps for a military ceremony and dinner at Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

On Friday while their spouses meet, the first lady will be hosted by the Prime Minister’s husband, Philip May, a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street confirmed.

May even bought a new suit for the occasion.

“He’s looking forward to meeting Melania. They were both at the G20 but because of timetables and so forth he wasn’t able to meet her there. He has been out and bought a new suit,” the Prime Minister told the Sunday Times.

Friday evening, she’ll accompany the President as he is received by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, described by US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson as “the highlight of any President’s visit to the UK.”

The Queen has met every US president since 1952, with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Following a welcome ceremony full of pomp and circumstance and a Royal Salute, the Trumps will inspect the Guard of Honor and then join Her Majesty for tea in the castle.

The Trumps then will travel to Scotland, where the President will spend time preparing for his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The first lady will accompany the President to Helsinki, Finland, where Trump and Putin will meet next Monday. It’s still unclear whether she will make any public appearances there.

Quiet diplomacy

Despite the fact that there are no scheduled opportunities for her to make formal remarks, the notoriously private first lady often says more with her actions than with her words.

On previous trips abroad, she displayed quiet repose at religious sites, with Pope Francis even cracking a joke and a smile when she was in his presence. Her visit with sick children at a hospital in Rome conjured compassion; her viral moment, swatting away the hand of her husband on the tarmac in Israel, revealing her independent streak. Accompanying her husband on his trip to Asia last fall, she displayed warm relationships with her Japanese, Chinese and Korean counterparts.

The studious Trump has done her homework preparing for this trip.

“She learns all she can about the customs and traditions of the host country before every foreign trip,” Grisham said, adding that Melania Trump’s European background is “part of her total life experience, which she views as an asset on the whole.”

Visits with children have been key in other public appearances for the first lady, both domestically and abroad, and in the UK, Trump will attend an event with ties to her recently unveiled platform, Be Best, which focuses on children’s well-being, fighting opioid abuse and positivity on social media.

“She wants to speak with and exchange ideas around the importance of children’s well-being all over the world. That said, one of the events she will take part in in London will have ties to her Be Best campaign,” Grisham said.

What to watch

As ever with the first lady, many eyes will be tracking her fashion choices. From the dramatic white hat she wore during the Trump White House’s first state visit to her puzzling jacket choice while boarding the plane to visit immigrant children at the US-Mexico border, her sartorial choices say volumes. Look for her subtle fashion diplomacy, which has previously featured stylistic nods to her host countries.

Another key moment will be when she interacts with Queen Elizabeth II. Then-first lady Michelle Obama shocked royal observers in 2009 for breaking royal protocol by putting her arm around the Queen, who returned the gesture.

It also remains to be seen whether Melania Trump will meet Putin again while in Helsinki. The first lady sat beside the Russian President at last year’s G20 summit.

The President clearly sees his wife’s presence as an asset as he navigates a challenging set of meetings with his global counterparts.

“I don’t think the United States could possibly have a better emissary than our magnificent, and wonderful person, our first lady, Melania,” he told a crowd of military personnel in Italy at the conclusion of their first trip to the Middle East and Europe in May 2017.

He continued: “The countries of the world have a large number of disagreements, but they all agree with me on that one — that I can tell you. So everywhere we go, it’s the same old story. So, great job.”