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Hillary Clinton in Saudi Arabia *updated*

February 15, 2010

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal (centre,R) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon her arrival at Riyadh airport February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/

I’m still trying to get my hands on a video of her Townterview in Doha, Qatar earlier today- in my previous post (here) there are photos and some video clips from her Q&A. Here is another news clip:

Then she went to Saudi Arabia where she was invited to the King’s private retreat, which according to this article, is unusual:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday got the royal treatment, literally, when King Abdullah invited her and her entourage to visit him at his winter retreat here, about an hour’s drive north of Riyadh, the capital. Few visitors are invited to the king’s desert sanctuary, and reporters are almost never permitted. But the king not only allowed the media to venture inside his soaring black tent, but personally greeted each hack.

The royal surroundings — the result of the House of Saud’s autocratic control of the country’s oil wealth — are both spectacular and surprisingly banal.

The tent, which from a distance looks like a six-top black circus tent, is actually a mini-palace with a tented top. It sits on concrete, with one grand sitting room and one equally large banquet room. It is surrounded on all sides by semi-trailers, recreational vehicles and dozens of other, real tents (with carpets covering the sand and nonstop air conditioners.) A helicopter landing zone is just steps away, as is a zoo stocked with deer, falcons and other beasts.

[snip

Clinton traveled here on the king’s own bus, a massive vehicle with 11 seats arranged in a circle in the Saudi fashion. When she arrived, the king greeted her in the sitting room, which features five chandeliers and a single carpet stretching 82 feet long. Along one wall was a giant 60-inch television, surrounded by 32 smaller televisions. (Apparently the king can always keep an eye on every cable channel.)

Each member of Clinton’s entourage was given a card with a number, which showed exactly which overstuffed couch he or she would sit on. As dozens of servants, including the gun-toting tea servers who served single gulps of tea, bustled about, the king, through an interpreter, and Clinton (along with each country’s ambassadors) engaged in light-hearted banter about camels for about a quarter of an hour.

The camel diplomacy eventually ran out of steam and the king motioned that it was time for lunch.

The 86-year-old monarch slowly led the way to the banquet room. The food selection was worthy of an elaborate wedding, a Hollywood opening or a fancy bar mitzvah. Arrayed along the side, at least four dozen types of meat, fish and chicken dishes, including huge platters of lobster, awaited the guests. The tables were groaning with even more food and dishes, too numerous to count, let alone eat. The hand fresheners were scented by Bulgari.

In the center of the room stood yet another huge television, which lifted out of a cabinet on a hydraulic lift. The king and Clinton sat down with their food, facing the television, and he immediately turned it on, at high volume, to a news and sports channel.

That spoiled the atmospherics a bit. But the king and Clinton seemed to be chatting during the meal, so the TV might have been intended to keep their conversation private from the curious ears of the other guests.

I can’t even imagine…

Update:

Here is another short video of Secretary Clinton’s arrival at the Saudi King’s, ummm, tent:





Ok, here are some photos:



Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Royal Palace in Riyadh February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/

Here’s a news story I ran across in my internet travels. It talks about Saudi Arabia’s regional “concerns”:

A year after Barack Obama became president, Saudis see a Washington that wants improved relations with Arabs but remains weighed down by domestic problems and old Middle East policies.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Riyadh and Jeddah on Monday and Tuesday is aimed at building cooperation on the key regional issues that involve deeply both countries: Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Yemeni security and the Afghanistan war.

Differences on all those are narrow, but Riyadh is deeply anxious over each, and over Obama’s ability to focus amid overwhelming domestic economic problems.

On Iran, Riyadh’s regional arch-rival, it worries that the US, European allies and Israel are on an irrevocable course toward a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities that could spark a counter-attack that would threaten Saudi territory and key oil facilities.

On peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, it worries Washington diplomats are providing Israel cover to avoid serious discussions, wasting Obama’s genuine desire for an equitable two-state settlement.

With Yemen, Riyadh is happy that global attention has moved to the Qaeda threat from the impoverished country on its southern border.

But Saudis worry an international coalition assembled in London in January could inject funds into Yemen while not achieving improved governance from Yemen’s President Abdullah Ali Saleh.

And they want a more political and development-based solution in Afghanistan, though they themselves have refused to help negotiate with a Taliban which has not distanced itself from Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia has not given up on Obama, said Jamal Khashoggi, editor in chief of Watan newspaper.

“America in reality has no problem in relations with the Muslim world, except the Palestinian problem,” he said.

The lack of progress on the Palestinian issue is a key concern.

“The peace process is the main issue, of course,” said Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Osama Nugali. “Our position is still the same… that we need to revive the peace process.”

That’s interesting because I often forget just how much Saudi Arabia and Iran can’t stand each other. It seems that Iran is becoming more and more isolated, even in the region.

She met with Prince Saud al Faisal (and I’m hoping to get a video of their press briefing:

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal (R) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walk after their joint news conference in Riyadh February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

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