King Abdullah’s ‘Special Relationship’ With the U.S.

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Saudi state TV reported Friday morning, local time, that King Abdullah had died at 90. The monarch’s health was a known concern last April, when TIME took a long look at the state of affairs between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., and the relationship between the King and President Barack Obama.

Though interactions between the two nations were showing signs of stress, they still provided a window into the world of the King:

The King requires a certain amount of TLC. “This is a very personalized relationship. It’s always the King and the President,” says Elliott Abrams, a former Bush White House national-security aide who has met Abdullah many times. The special relationship between Washington and Riyadh has endured since 1945, when Franklin Roosevelt met with Abdullah’s father Abdulaziz ibn Saud and established an informal deal: the U.S. provides for the kingdom’s security in exchange for reliable oil supplies. (History buffs will note that Roosevelt saw the King on his way home from the Yalta conference, held in Crimea.)

To this day, there is nothing quite like dinners with the Saudi monarch in his Riyadh palace. The King and the President are seated at the head of a massive U-shaped table, flanked by dozens of people, most of whom can’t see either leader because of the large flat-screen televisions that are placed in front of them. The King enjoys dining with his TV tuned to the news channel al-Arabiya, Abrams says.

That may not be Obama’s idea of a good time. But communication with the King, now 89, comes much more easily in person than the grouchy mumbling one gets from afar. “The King doesn’t like to talk on the phone,” says a diplomat who knows Abdullah. Despite such obstacles, Obama has maintained a workmanlike, if not quite hand-holding, relationship with Abdullah. In their past meetings, says Jim Smith, Obama’s ambassador to Riyadh until last October, “Obama was deferential and respectful of the King’s age, and the King was respectful of the President’s position and his brainpower.”

Read the full story here, on The King and O

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