RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Opening a mission to write a new chapter on Islam and the West, President Obama consulted yesterday with the Saudi king "in the place where Islam began," prelude to a high-stakes speech in Egypt meant to ease long-held Muslim grievances against the United States.
The son of a Kenyan Muslim who lived part of his childhood in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Obama planned what aides called a "truth-telling" address today, aimed directly at the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Many harbor animosity toward the U.S. over its staunch support for Israel, its terrorist-fighting policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Americans, likewise, formed negative perceptions of the Muslim world after the 9/11 attacks.
In advance, Saudi King Abdullah staged a lavish welcome after Obama's all-night flight to Riyadh.
"I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek his majesty's counsel," Obama said. The president and the king talked in the splendor of Abdullah's sprawling retreat, a lush patch of searing desert.
The king, who was hosting Obama for an overnight stay, called his guest "a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position." *