Monday, February 15th, 2010
RAWDAT KHURAIM, SAUDI ARABIA — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton begins a difficult diplomatic assignment Monday in Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally. By all accounts, President Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah last year went poorly over misunderstandings on a variety of issues, and now Clinton seeks to rebuild ties.
Clinton, who landed in Riyadh on Monday afternoon, is expected to have lengthy meetings with the king, a tough, no-nonsense leader, at a huge tent compound about a 65-minute drive from the capital. Clinton was driven to the desert compound in a vehicle of the king’s that has 11 seats arrayed in a circle.
[efoods]In his meeting with Obama in May, Abdullah turned down a request for Saudi Arabia to accept detainees from Yemen and rejected making any confidence-building steps toward Israel. (The Saudis themselves had thought Obama’s visit was a courtesy call and they were surprised so many tough issues were raised without much preparation.) The tough session helped convince Obama he needed great expertise in the Middle East on his staff, which is one reason why Dennis Ross was moved from the State Department, where he worked for Clinton, to the White House, officials said.
Abdullah, when he was crown prince but de facto ruler, tested then-President George W. Bush in similar ways. In a 2003 visit to Bush’s ranch, Abdullah brought along images of Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israelis and demanded to know whether Bush was serious about Middle East peace. Otherwise, Abdullah said, he was prepared to walk out and tell the media gathered outside. Few leaders had ever spoken to Bush in those terms.