Bush's Mideast tête-à-têtes: cookies and trucks
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"They speak the same language. They read the same Bible. They think about the world in a very similar way," says Mr. Reich, a professor at George Washington University.Skip to next paragraph
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The most likely to understand Bush's informal and down-to-earth Texas style of hospitality, the young Jordanian king is perhaps the most Americanized of the Mideast heads of state. He is said to speak English better than Arabic, likes American television, and has been supportive of the president's war on terrorism and his "axis of evil" concept. Like Bush, he is a son of a national leader.
His meeting with Bush today is his second this year. Whereas Sharon's visit was confined strictly to business, the president and the king will take time to dine together.
Analysts say the import of King Abdullah's role is not so much as a conduit to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but as an ear to the so-called Arab street and as a leader whose country has signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Last year, Saudi Arabia's prince snubbed Bush, refusing to come to Washington while on a trip to Canada. Two weeks ago, he was a "special" guest at the Bush ranch in Crawford. The two leaders broke brownies together and also took a bumpy tour in the presidential pick-up, where they spotted a wild turkey.
Although the president insisted he had "forged a personal bond of friendship" with Abdullah, observers note the ties are really just beginning to develop, and they are helped greatly by the friendship between the president's father and the crown prince, as well as their common interest in the oil business.
This relationship is more formal than most. Bush grumbled to an aide that he had to wear a suit during Abdullah's ranch visit. But as the keeper of Islam's most holy shrines, and the author of an Arab-Israeli peace plan now adopted by the Arab League, the crown prince has become the key Arab player for the White House. Indeed, the Saudis were instrumental in the deal that freed Mr. Arafat from his compound in Ramallah.
Interestingly, the Egyptian president was not on the most recent invite list to Washington, perhaps because he met with Bush in March. At that time, he urged Bush to get more involved in the Mideast crisis and was rebuffed.
Analysts say the White House needs to be more attentive of Mubarak, who has expressed anger and frustration with the administration's inability or unwillingness to exert more pressure on Sharon. He's also dismayed to see the Saudi crown prince displace him as the new Washington favorite for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire.
"He's quite piqued at having been upstaged by the crown prince as the lead player in Arab diplomacy," says Michael Hudson, an Arab expert at Georgetown University here.
Missing from all of these personal talks with the president, of course, is Yasser Arafat. Bush himself still refuses to meet with him, saying the Palestinian leader has not earned his trust.