Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 10/28/08-Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud

In today's excerpt--during World War II, it became clear that the Middle East was emerging as a very important source of oil. And so it came to pass that after the historic Yalta conference in 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt took a slight detour for a strange and remarkable meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Ibn Saud:

"After Yalta, Roosevelt and his advisers went from Russia to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, where they boarded the USS Quincy. ... Another American ship, the USS Murphy, pulled up with an honored guest--Ibn Saud.

"For the Saudi King, this was perhaps only his second trip outside his kingdom since that day, forty-five years ago, when he had left exile in Kuwait to take his first step--the assault on Riyadh--toward regaining Arabia. He had boarded the Murphy a couple of days earlier, in Jidda, with a party of forty-eight. His group was also to include one hundred live sheep, but after some negotiation, the number was reduced to just seven in light of the sixty days' worth of provisions, including frozen meat, on board the American ship. Ibn Saud spurned the offer of the commodore's cabin and slept instead on deck, in an improvised tent made of canvas, stretched over the forecastle, and furnished with Oriental carpets and one of the King's own chairs.

"Once Ibn Saud had transferred to the President's ship, the chain-smoking Roosevelt, out of deference to the King's religious precepts, did not light up in his presence. On the way to lunch, however, Roosevelt was taken in his wheelchair into a separate elevator. The President himself pushed the red emergency button, stopping long enough to smoke two cigarettes before meeting again with the King. Altogether, the two men spent more than five very intense hours together. Roosevelt's interests were a Jewish homeland in Palestine, oil, and the postwar configuration of the Middle East. For his part, Ibn Saud wanted to assure continuing American interest in Saudi Arabia after the war, in order to counterbalance what had been for him a chronic threat throughout his reign--British influence in the region. In reply to Roosevelt's call for a Jewish homeland, the bitterly anti-Zionist Ibn Saud suggested those displaced Jews who had somehow managed to survive the war be given a national homeland in Germany.

"Roosevelt and Ibn Saud got along very well. At one point, the King declared that he was the 'twin' brother of the President because of their close ages, their responsibilities for their nation's well-being, their interests in farming, and their grave physical infirmities--the President confined by polio to a wheelchair and the King walking with difficulty and unable to climb stairs because of war wounds in his legs. ...

"[Because of that] Roosevelt said, 'I will give you the twin of this wheelchair, as I have two on board.' The wheelchair went back with Ibn Saud to Riyadh, where thereafter it would remain in the King's private apartment to be shown off by Ibn Saud as a most valued memento."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin, pp. 403-404.


Post a Comment

<< Home