Watch out: Protocol pitfalls abound as Trump heads abroad

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was walking across the sun-splashed airport tarmac in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 when the Israeli leader playfully warned his political ally about the confusing protocol he was about to encounter on his first visit to Israel as president.

“What is the protocol?” Trump asked his host, referring to the rules that govern how dignitaries interact. “You have any idea what it is?”

A smiling Netanyahu replied: “Who knows?”

Trump’s next few weeks will serve as a master class in the finer points — and potential pitfalls — of protocol as he makes state visits to Japan and the United Kingdom, meeting with both Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Japan’s newly installed Emperor Naruhito. Plenty of world leaders get tripped up by the intricacies, and Trump himself has a spotty record in his diplomatic dealings on the world stage.

He pushed his way to the front of a pack of world leaders as they got into position for a photo at a NATO meeting in Brussels in 2017. He belittled Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over Twitter after leaving a fractious meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations last year in Canada. And he arrived late to Windsor Castle when he met the queen for the first time last year. Her schedules are arranged so she doesn’t have to wait for anyone.

For all of that, though, the president can’t seem to get enough of pomp and pageantry. He raved about the reception he received in Asia in 2017, when China and other governments welcomed Trump by rolling out red carpets, staging military parades and putting on fancy dinners as he toured the region.

Trump’s penchant for flattery is not lost on the Japanese, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe going all-out to become perhaps Trump’s closest friend among global leaders. The frills of a state visit, including meeting Naruhito and an imperial banquet, should bring out the best in Trump, said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I think he’ll be on really good behavior,” Green said. “I think the Japanese knew very much what they were doing.”

With nothing left to chance, diagrams have been drawn up to help Trump rehearse his movements at the Imperial Palace, where he and first lady Melania Trump will meet Naruhito on Monday.

Officials there say they aren’t worried about any diplomatic blunders, noting that Trump’s meeting two years ago with then-Emperor Akihito went smoothly.

Governments across the globe, including the United States, employ officials who ground themselves in the ins and outs of protocol, the rules that govern how leaders and dignitaries interact and comport themselves. But leaders don’t always follow the instructions — for reasons as varied as a case of the nerves or sheer disregard of conventions.