- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

One national leader has four wives, chain smokes, rides around in a Rolls Royce, sleeps until noon and spends the wee hours of the night in an office with a bank of 33 television sets so he can monitor all available satellite channels at once.
The other married his childhood sweetheart, runs a seven-minute mile, mucks around his ranch in a pickup truck, rises before dawn and rarely watches TV news, preferring to go to bed by 10 p.m.
The two Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Bush have been pushed together in an unlikely coalition working to solve the conflict in the Middle East. They will meet today at Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Prince Abdullah has offered a peace plan for the region that last month was adopted unanimously by Arab leaders at their summit in Beirut. The plan calls for recognition of both Israel and a new Palestinian state, provided Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders.
The U.S. president recently embraced the prince's plan as the best available option.
The endorsement culminated in an invitation by Mr. Bush for the prince to drop by his 1,600-acre ranch, making the Saudi prince the third head of state to visit.
But unlike homey gatherings with Russian President Vladimir Putin whom Mr. Bush picked up in his beat-up truck and British Prime Minister Tony Blair who brought his family for a weekend visit Prince Abdullah will not be spending the night.
"Oh, I don't think he'd have a good time at all staying at the ranch," said one Bush administration official with a chuckle. "I can't think of two leaders that are more different."
But the remarkable thing about the two leaders a born-and-bred Texan who once owned a baseball team and the Saudi-born prince who in his youth lived with a Bedouin tribe in the desert is how much they have in common.
The 78-year-old prince still just heir to the throne but acting as king since his 80-year-old brother, King Fahd, suffered a stroke in 1995 owns an equestrian farm in Saudi Arabia and, like Mr. Bush, loves sports, particularly lawn bowling. He occasionally gathers some of the 30,000 royal family members for a game at his palace, donning a pair of striped Adidas running shoes under his Bedouin robe.
The de facto leader of the world's richest oil sheikdom, Prince Abdullah is the longtime commander of the 75,000-strong Saudi Arabian national guard. Like Mr. Bush, himself a military veteran, the prince is a teetotaler and considers himself a straight-talking man of action, not words.
Both leaders are also devoutly religious.
"Prince Abdullah has been one of the most forthcoming senior Saudis, one of the easiest to talk to," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Affairs. "He does not dodge around issues. He's been long respected for not only being frank, but when he says something, he keeps his word."
Mr. Bush is also considered a man of his word who speaks plainly.
Prince Abdullah is popular, especially among women. Early this year, the prince began enforcing a system that requires Saudi women to have identity cards with photographs, names and serial numbers. While the move sounds restrictive to the Western world, the cards are seen in Saudi Arabia as a means of providing greater freedom for women, making it easier for them to travel, open bank accounts and conduct business.
The U.S. president is enjoying sky-high approval ratings and has made inroads among some groups traditionally thought to be aligned with Democrats, including women and Hispanics.
Like Mr. Bush, Prince Abdullah shuns the traditional standoffishness practiced by his predecessors. At least once a week, he holds "majlis," or audiences, where hundreds of ordinary citizens line up to speak with the prince, who rises to greet old men and offers them seats while they talk to him.
Having determined that some Saudis view the royal family as irresponsible and lazy, Prince Abdullah cracked down on royal deadbeats who wouldn't pay their phone bills and insisted that those with family connections actually work to draw a paycheck.
The prince occasionally tours throughout his country, sometimes in a custom tour bus with a small living room complete with satellite TV. He has been known to pop into fast-food restaurants to mingle with Saudi youths and once, on a visit to Hawaii, put on civilian clothes and took his family to a shopping mall.
His plain-spokenness is legendary. After the September 11 terrorist attacks on America and despite his opposition to Israel the prince said the Arab world required "some self-accounting that precedes the accounting of others," adding that it was "the duty of all Muslims" to condemn the terrorist acts "without the slightest hesitation or ambiguity."
Though Prince Abdullah's speech went unnoticed then in the Western media, Arab leaders are still talking about it.
The prince has a personal stake in the attacks because mastermind Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 terrorists involved were born in Saudi Arabia.
Still, Mr. Bush and Prince Abdullah have noticeable differences, especially regarding their schedules. The prince rises at noon, works until his main meal at 7 p.m, naps until midnight and then works through the night.
So it's a good thing he's not staying over in Crawford.
"This town shuts down about 9:30," said Nancy Baird, owner of the Crawford restaurant the Coffee Station. "There's nothing to do here in the middle of the night. Nothing."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide