A look back: 70 years of US-Saudi leader meetings

Obama’s visit to Saudi comes over seven decades after the first meeting between a US president and a Saudi king

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes over 70 years after the first meeting between a US president and a Saudi king.

Since then the two countries have largely discussed oil prices and the push for a long standing peace in the Middle East.

Here we look back at the meetings between the leaders of the two nations since that first historic event on Feb. 14, 1945.

Franklin J Roosevelt was the first US president to meet a Saudi king. He had just attended the Yalta Conference in 1945 which saw world leaders meet to discuss the future of postwar Europe.

The president met King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal on Feb. 14, 1945. Their close bond did not last as Roosevelt died two months later.

Harry S Truman’s postwar presidency ran from 1945 to 1953. During this time there was a large focus on the beginnings of the Jewish settlements in Palestine.

But it wasn’t until 1957 and two presidents later that the relatively new King Saud traveled to the US to meet Dwight Eisenhower in what was the first ever royal visit to the States by a Saudi king.

The visit last three days and saw the two discuss the importance of improving the situation in the Middle East – in truth the most important outcome of the meeting was the ongoing commitment by the US to strengthening Saudi military.

The kingdom also reiterated its agreement to allow the US to continue using Dhahran Airfield facilities.

King Saud met two US presidents during his 11-year reign – his second being the ill-fated Present John F Kennedy.

The two statesmen met in 1962 after King Saud had underwent surgery. He was convalescing in an oceanfront mansion on Palm Beach, when President Kennedy flew to the Florida property to wish him well.

It is understood that during the visit the two discussed a number of matters involving the kingdom, including the abolition of slavery which later came to fruition. The meeting was to be their last – JFK was famously assassinated the following year.

King Saud reigned for a further two years until 1964 when King Faisal came into power. Saud was in Athens, Greece, when he passed away in 1969, aged 67.

King Faisal was the king of Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975 – during which time America had two presidents: Lyndon B Johnson, from 1963 to 1969, and then Richard M Nixon who served until he famously resigned the office of president.

King Faisal had been to the US under a number of different roles – his 1966 Washington visit, was first as king. In his welcoming speech to his Saudi guest, President Johnson said: “Your country, under Your Majesty's wise rule, has made great strides forward. Roads, public works, health services, new schools--and new educational opportunities for the young men and women of Saudi Arabia--all these stand as eloquent testimony to your active development efforts.”

And he said: “We are living in a world of change, but we, like you, favor change by peaceful methods.”

In 1971 King Faisal visited the US capital for a second time, this time to meet President Richard Nixon in the first of two meetings.

They met for a second time in 1974 when Nixon traveled to the kingdom. In the previous year King Faisal had withdrawn his country’s oil in response to Western support for Israel.

At the time King Faisal said in his opening remarks that a lasting Middle East peace was reliant on Jerusalem being returned to the Arab community.

Responding to the Arab oil embargo, Nixon called for diplomacy, but added: “We, of course, will need the oil to carry us to our next stop.”

By August of 1974, facing impeachment, Nixon became the first US president to resign. In March the following year King Faisal was assassinated.

King Khalid bin Abdulaziz, was the Saudi monarch from 1975 until 1982. During this time he underwent heart surgery in 1978 in the US.

After his treatment he met with President Jimmy Carter at the White House, where they discussed a number of procedural matters.

King Fahd bin Abdulaziz saw US Presidents Regan, Bush and Clinton pass through the White House during his 23-year reign, which ran from 1982 until 2005.

In 1985 President Ronald Reagan invited King Fahd to Washington four years after they previously met when he was the crown prince. Subjects up for discussion included possible Arab-Israeli negotiations and the rise of football in the kingdom.

Five years later in 1990 King Fahd gave the US permission to deploy troops in Saudi Arabia, after seeing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as a direct threat to the kingdom.

When President George H W Bush visited Jeddah in November the same year, 230,000 US troops had already been deployed to the country. It was agreed the troops would leave following the successful conclusion of military operations. The fight began on Aug. 2, 1990 – it was over seven months later on Feb. 28.

In 1994, King Fahd met Democrat President Bill Clinton for the third and final time. Much of their discussions touched on commercial deals between the two countries.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz met several times with George W Bush during his 10-year reign. The two had met twice earlier when Abdullah was crown prince, but was assuming the duties of King Fahd who had suffered a stroke.

In fact King Abdullah met a significant number of US former presidents and top ranking politicians, including 2016 presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush and the king also met on a number of occasions before the US presidency switched to the Democrats when Barack Obama took up the White House reins.

President Obama visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2009. Obama at the time addressed the entire Middle East and North Africa in an attempt to improve relations between the region and the United States.

As well as Palestine, the two men discussed the Iranian nuclear program – which would later become the president’s legacy. King Abdullah died in February 2015 and was succeeded by King Salman.

In February 2015 President Obama traveled to Riyadh to pay his respects to the family of the late King Abdullah and to meet with King Salman.

Obama’s visit came nearly 70 years after Franklin J Roosevelt became the first US president to meet a Saudi king. But his visit came at a time of much upheaval in the region, with ISIS expanding in Iraq and Syria and the beginnings of the war in Yemen.

This article is part of Al Arabiya English’s Special Coverage on Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia.