On Sunday, while addressing the Arab Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia, President Trump looked ahead to the future relationship between that nation and the United States. He also looked back, however, to the start of that relationship: “Working alongside another beloved leader — American President Franklin Roosevelt — King Abdulaziz began the enduring partnership between our two countries,” he said.
It was Valentine’s Day 1945 when, en route from the Yalta Conference earlier that month, FDR met the man whom TIME described in a Mar 5, 1945, cover story as a “robed, resplendent” King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, “one of the few living rulers who looks the part,” aboard the USS Quincy cruiser in the Suez Canal.
William Eddy, a Marine Colonel who helped organize the summit, later described how the two connected about not only professional, but also personal matters. Roosevelt gave the King a DC-3 passenger airplane “that even included a rotating throne so the king could always face Mecca when flying,” as well as one of two wheelchairs brought along for the trip after the King said he was having knee problems that made it hard for him to get around, according to a history of the encounter published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (It’s said that the one concession Roosevelt didn’t make was handing over the cook who made the apple pie to the King, instead letting the ship’s cook train the King’s cook to make it.) It was the King’s first journey outside his realm.
But such gifts were not the most important exchange that day. What really mattered, long-term, was the establishment of U.S. military support for the Saudis and U.S. access to oil.
The meeting was part of a series towards the end of the war, when the world powers were thinking about shifting around the borders of Middle East. The U.S. had its eye on Saudi Arabia, given the nation’s rich oil stores (and an eye on Syria, setting the stage for the tug of war between America and Russia that continues to this day). TIME’s cover story described the stakes:
On April 5, FDR wrote a follow-up letter to Ibn Saud vowing to keep him in the loop on issues relating to Palestine. A week later, on April 12, Roosevelt died.
Under President Harry S. Truman, the U.S. voted for a U.N. resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews in late 1947. However, America’s view of Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally — and its view that ensuring safe access to Saudi Arabian oil is a matter of national security — has not changed since that historic first meeting.