Tales from the Trail

Obama’s ties with Saudi Arabia? Solid gold

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 OBAMA/SAUDI ARABIAsporting 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.
 
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama tries on gold medal received from King Abdullah)

The First Draft: A bumpy Mideast landing

OBAMA/SAUDI ARABIAWithin minutes of President Barack Obama’s arrival in Saudi Arabia today, a recording by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was played on Al Jazeera television. U.S. television networks showed Air Force One landing in Riyadh and the first images of Obama greeting Saudi King Abdullah, the audio recording from bin Laden took aim. The militant leader accused the Obama administration of “planting seeds for hatred and revenge.”

It was a rough beginning to what could be a challenging visit to the Middle East and Europe by Obama. He spends tonight at the Saudi monarch’s farm, then flies to Cairo tomorrow for a much-previewed address to the Muslim world. He then travels to Germany and finally to France to commemorate D-Day, returning to Washington on Saturday.

There’s a full cast of characters testifying today on Capitol Hill. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke appears before the House Budget Committee on challenges facing the economy. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu talks to a panel of the House Appropriations Committee. And executives from GM and Chrysler testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on protecting auto dealers and consumers after the closure of hundreds of car dealerships at both companies.