Roosevelt’s grandson says US president and King Abdul Aziz built legacy of friendship

Hall Delano Roosevelt continues his grandfather's legacy as chief executive of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council. (AN_Photo)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Roosevelt’s grandson says US president and King Abdul Aziz built legacy of friendship

  • Hall Delano Roosevelt believes there are big opportunities under Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 diversification strategy
  • FDR's grandson discusses with ancestral authority the multi-faceted topic of US-Saudi partnership

DUBAI: Policy experts have debated for 75 years about the underlying motive for the historic meeting in 1945 between US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Saudi King Abdul Aziz on board the USS Quincy. Was it about oil? Was it about Palestine? Was it about sales of defense equipment? 

But Hall Delano Roosevelt speaks with an ancestral authority on the subject, at least from the American side. “It was about creating a relationship and a friendship with this new King, who had just spent quite some time, and resources, and blood, and effort to unite the Arabian Peninsula for the purpose of being a productive part of the world,” he told Arab News.

As FDR’s grandson, he should know. “Del,” as he is called in Washington DC, has devoted a significant part of his career to promoting US-Saudi partnerships, in business, commerce and finance, and spent many years in the Kingdom and the Arabian Gulf with his wife Jan.

Since last year he has been chief executive of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council, the not-for-profit organization which aims to promote commercial ties between the two countries.

Roosevelt family folklore has an interesting tale about how the Quincy meeting came about. “We were told that His Majesty had met several Americans, but was still curious about their leader. Does he want to colonize us? Does he believe in God? So he wanted to meet with my grandfather for himself, before he met with Winston Churchill, and FDR jumped at that opportunity,” Roosevelt said.

The rendezvous left an abiding impression. “In my humble opinion, what endures now between the US and Saudi Arabia was really just a natural growth from the conversation that took place that day. Sure they spoke about oil, but they also talked abut agriculture, and about industry and manufacturing,” he said.




Saudi Arabia's first airliner was a Douglas DC-3 that was given to Saudi King Abdul Aziz as a gift by then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Getty Images)

Another tangible legacy of the meeting was the Saudi aviation industry, Roosevelt pointed out, after FDR gifted a DC-3 aircraft to the King — the first plane of the fleet that later became Saudia. “FDR was always trying to expedite processes and to keep government out of the way, so he had the aircraft boxed up in huge crates marked ‘agricultural machinery.’

“What endures today is the legacy of a bridge built between the two men, based on friendship, that resulted in business. FDR realized that here was a culture based on relationships, not strictly on numbers and commerce. If you build it on trust, commerce will follow,” he said.

The commercial imperative is still in place today, he believes, keeping things stable while governments try to deal with the political differences that may occasionally arise. “I’m a firm believer in peace through commerce. It’s the initial trust that allows for the friendship to grow. Even when one of them behaves poorly, the other one understands it and they work through it, just like you would in a marriage,” Roosevelt said.

Some analysts believe that the changing dynamics of the oil industry have fundamentally altered the US-Saudi relationship. In 1945, the US was the pre-eminent oil producer in the world, while the Kingdom had not yet fully tapped its vast reserves.

That situation reversed towards the end of the last century, when Riyadh became the leading exporter, only to flip back again in the past decade as the US shale revolution made America effectively self-sufficient in oil once more.

Roosevelt takes a long-term, market-oriented view. The new situation allows Saudi Arabia to sell its product to other markets, he said, and in any case it could all change again very quickly. “We’re feeling 10-feet tall now, but every four years we have a presidential election, and everything can change with a simple pen stroke. I just hope the people in the Beltway (Washington DC) get it right in 2020,” he said.

Roosevelt also hopes that another business proposition — the possible listing of shares in Saudi Aramco on a US stock exchange — does not fall prey to political chicanery. “This is an incredibly volatile year, tensions are running high, and things like this (a US listing for Aramco) can get caught up in the maelstrom of US politics,” he said.

But in any case, he insisted, the US-Saudi Business Council is not a political organization, and he has no idea how the presidential election will go. “For the first time in my life, and despite all the political DNA in my body, I have no clue,” he said.

The council exists to promote business ties, but surely there have been times when the complex geopolitics of the Middle East have deterred American businessmen from potential deals in the region?

“I’ve never had difficulty explaining to people here the case for expanding in the region. They all get the fact that there is a tremendous business opportunity.

“But in those conversations, usually after 10 or 15 minutes, they ask: ‘You’ve been there Del, you’ve lived there with Jan and your children have visited — is it safe?’ I know that question is coming,” he said.

“And I tell them truthfully that in all the years I’ve been in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other places, I have never experienced one moment of ‘attitude.’ I feel safer walking around there than in any major city in the West. There are no gangs, no drive-bys, no home invasions. You’re more likely to be assaulted by curiosity — are you from America or the UK? — and generosity,” he said.

He worked for years as the director of new business for the Alireza Group, one of the Kingdom’s oldest and biggest conglomerates, which taught him some big lessons in how to do business in the Kingdom and the region. “Work backwards. Don’t waste time bringing US companies to the Kingdom to see what gaps they might fill. First find the gaps, and then go to the US to fill that gap,” he said.

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“So many business conversations end in a handshake, and then there is no follow-up. That is how I see the council’s job — to be with you all the time until you make the sell. It’s no use doing business long distance either — you’ve got to put boots on the ground and make a commitment. So many US groups thinks it’s about planting the flag and walking away with a bucket of cash. Well, that does not happen,” he added.

Nonetheless, there are big opportunities, Roosevelt believes, under the Vision 2030 diversification strategy. He highlighted the tourism and leisure sectors as areas where American firms can bring expertise and commitment to Saudi Arabia, like the Qiddiya resort that’s being built outside Riyadh. “It’s twice the size of Disney World — amazing,” he said.

And, much like his grandfather 75 years ago, he gives a vote of confidence in the current generation of Saudi leadership to see through the strategy.

“I believe that they will achieve the Vision 2030, because they have a king who understands traditional society and a young crown prince who is the driving force with the new generation. Alhamdullilah,” he said.


WHO denies Houthi ‘faulty testing kit’ claims

Updated 03 June 2020

WHO denies Houthi ‘faulty testing kit’ claims

  • The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries
  • Yemeni Prime Minister says the Houthis have suppressed information about the pandemic

AL-MUKALLA: The World Health Organization (WHO) office in Yemen has rejected a claim by Iran-backed Houthis that COVID-19 test kits provided by the organization are faulty and hampered their efforts to declare an accurate number of infections in their territories.

In a statement seen by Arab News, the WHO said that the kits were made in Germany and have been used in 120 countries.

“The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries. An estimated 2 million of these kits were manufactured by TIB Molbiol, a company based in Germany,” the statement said.

Under local and international pressure to disclose accurate information about the pandemic in their territories, Houthi Health Minister Taha Al-Mutwakel said in a press conference on May 30 that one reason they did not reveal the number of infections in areas under their control was faulty testing kits that returned false positive results on non-human samples.

The WHO said: “The PCR test kits manufactured by TIB Molbiol met ISO standards for quality manufacturing. The kits were tested and validated by three external laboratories, and the validation results were published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Despite ruling the most densely populated areas in Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, the Houthis have reported only two deaths and two recoveries.

In less-populated liberated provinces, the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee reported on Tuesday 45 new coronavirus cases, including three deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 399, including 86 deaths and 15 recoveries.

Speaking at the virtual donors conference hosted by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said the Houthis have suppressed information about the pandemic, and intimidated Yemeni doctors and relatives of coronavirus patients who might speak out about their ordeal.

“The Houthis have rejected and disregarded all our initiatives for working together to fight the pandemic,” Saeed said.  

In Aden, Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the National Coronavirus Committee, told Arab News on Wednesday that there is no direct communication between the committee and Houthi health authorities.

“There is indirect cooperation through international agencies. There is great secrecy about the scale of the pandemic inside Houthi-controlled areas,” she said.

Suppression

Ironically, when the Houthi health chief was boasting about the health-care facilities and accusing the WHO of wrongdoing, a Houthi militia official was using social media to appeal for help after developing symptoms of COVID-19.

Ahmed Al-Hubaishi, a media adviser to the Houthi Supreme Political Council, wrote on Twitter, urging Houthi officials to send a medical team to his house. “I suffer from acute and intermittent fever, dry and severe coughing, and difficulty breathing,” he said.

Al-Hubaishi died on Wednesday of the virus. But instead of saying his father died of coronavirus based on his post, Al-Hubaishi’s son deleted his father’s old posts about his illness and said that he had died of diabetes, another indication of pressure on the families of infected people, experts said.

At the same time, new amateur videos posted on social media showed health workers in white protective clothing burying victims of COVID-19 in Sanaa and other northern provinces.

Confirmed images also show a notice from Houthis outside a closed cemetery in Sanaa, saying the cemetery was full.

Experts in Yemen believe that the health situation in Sanaa and other areas under Houthi control is dire, despite their efforts to suppress information about deaths and infections.

Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, whose news site extensively covered COVID-19 deaths in Houthi areas, told Arab News that he had documented the deaths of at least 30 doctors since early May. 

“They suppress information about the pandemic because they want life to continue as it is. The disruption of life would have an impact on their mobilization and recruitment efforts,” he said, adding that many COVID-19 patients prefer to isolate themselves at home to avoid Houthi harassment.

Al-Subaee said that her colleagues in different health facilities in Sanaa told her they receive more than 100 new virus cases every day. 

“The infection has spread through society. Doctors in our Whatsapp group say that Kuwait hospital alone receives 90 coronavirus patients in 24 hours,” she said.