Obama meets with Saudi king to ‘look him in the eyes’
By: Carrie Budoff Brown
March 28, 2014 05:55 PM EDT
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Barack Obama traveled to King Abdullah’s desert oasis Friday to “look him in the eyes” and explain that their strategic interests remain very much aligned, according to senior administration officials.
The trip — a late addition Obama’s European swing — came at a tense time in the U.S. relationship with a key Islamic ally, with Saudi Arabia feeling nervous about U.S. participation in nuclear talks with Iran and the president’s handling of the conflict in Syria.
“There is nothing like the person who is responsible for driving and making this policy to come down and sit face-to-face with the king, and patiently and carefully walk him through what we are doing and what the objective is,” a senior administration official told reporters. “It was important to have the chance to look him in the eyes and explain how determined the president is to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and how determined the president is to continue to counter Iran’s other destabilizing activities and that the U.S. going into this eyes wide open.”
Obama and Abdullah met for more than two hours at the king’s opulent retreat outside Riyadh, a sand-colored building of that looked like a conference center from the outside, but was lavishly decorated within. There were gilded chairs, upholstered walls and jewel chandeliers. Wrapped chocolates called patchi and flowers covered every coffee table. A massive gold clock the size of an armoire stood in the entryway to the meeting room.
Overlooking a lush back yard in the middle of the desert, Obama sat next to Abdullah, who was breathing with assistance from an oxygen tube.
The leaders spent most of their time talking about Iran and Syria, leaving no time to raise human rights issues, officials said. Advocacy groups had urged Obama to raise a new anti-terror law in Saudi Arabia that, the groups said, bans even peaceful protests.
However, the officials said, Obama would meet at his hotel Saturday with a well-known advocate on domestic violence prevention, Maha al-Muneef.