RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - If you worried U.S. President Barack Obama might not handle diplomacy with the energy-rich Saudi rulers as deftly as Texas oilman George W. Bush, fear no longer.
No sooner had Obama landed in Riyadh for a day of meetings with King Abdullah than he was sporting a big gold medal around his neck — the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit.
It’s the country’s highest honor — named for the founder of the modern Saudi state.
Bush, too, was awarded one on his first visit to the kingdom. It just took the former president seven years — till January 2008 — to visit Saudi Arabia.
Obama managed to get his in under five months, at only his second meeting with the king.
During the first meeting — in London — the U.S. leader famously greeted the Saudi monarch with something that looked suspiciously like a bow but was hard to tell exactly because a guy was standing in the way.
Protocol-wise, heads of state do not generally bow by way of greeting. But then Michelle Obama was busy patting Queen Elizabeth on the back, so protocol was kind of out the window anyway.
There were other signs on Wednesday that the U.S. and Saudi leaders were getting along well.
The White House says Obama has been consulting with Abdullah regularly by phone about the speech to the Islamic world that he will give from Cairo on Thursday.
Their meeting at King Abdullah’s sprawling farm outside Riyadh was scheduled to go for about two hours. Instead it lasted about three.
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Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama tries on gold medal received from King Abdullah)