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Mr. Obama, who was criticized for appearing to bow slightly before the king in April during the G-20 Summit in London, greeted King Abdullah this time with a light embrace and cheek-to-cheek touch on both sides.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” played and Mr. Obama, wearing a dark suit and striped tie, held his hand over his heart. Also played was the “Royal Salute,” the national anthem of Saudi Arabia.

Local broadcasts covering every moment of the short visit offered shots of the U.S. and Saudi flags waving in the breeze as Air Force One taxied at the airport. Flags also lined the main highway leading from the airport.

After the arrival ceremony on the tarmac, Mr. Obama and King Abdullah sat together in the Royal Reception Room, where the president sipped coffee, the traditional Saudi hospitality beverage. Smiling, he spoke to the king through a translator.

Mr. Obama had a full day planned of meetings with the king’s royal leadership at King’s Farm, a retreat similar to Camp David in the United States.

During their meeting at the ranch, the king presented Mr. Obama with a gold medallion that he placed around the president’s neck. Mr. Obama wore it for several photos but then removed it for what he said was “safekeeping.”

Mr. Obama closed his remarks with “shukran,” the Arabic word for “thank you.”

The visit was just a preview of the signature event of the trip — a speech at Cairo University aimed at improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama told the BBC Tuesday he wants to open a dialogue with the Islamic world.

“There are misapprehensions about the West on the part of the Muslim world and obviously there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West,” he said. “It is my firm belief that no one speech is going to solve every problem, there are no silver bullets. There are very real policy issues that have to be worked through that are difficult, and ultimately it’s going to be action and not words that determine the path of progress from here on out.”

But the president also raised eyebrows with comments in a separate interview with French television reporters noting that the United States itself could be considered one of the “largest Muslim countries in the world,” given the size of the U.S. Muslim minority.

While there are widespread misunderstandings about the United States in Muslim countries, “the flip side is, I think, that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam,” Mr. Obama said.

“And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples,” he added.

Middle East peace was expected to be a major part of Mr. Obama’s agenda in Riyadh and during the Cairo speech, following a series of White House meetings with leaders from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Obama told BBC the trip is an “opportunity for us to get both sides to listen to each other a little bit more and hopefully learn something about different cultures.”

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