President Obama hailed late Saudi King Abdullah, who died at age 90 after a battle with pneumonia, as leading the kingdom “through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations.”
“He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region,” Obama said of the Saudi plan that would recognize Israel in exchange for concessions including pulling back to pre-1967 borders. “At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.”
“As our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship,” the president continued in a statement. “As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond. The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy.”
“May God grant him peace,” Obama added.
Abdullah was going to be buried after Friday afternoon prayers, according to the Arab News. Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia, though it was unclear exactly when Biden would be in the country.
Biden said in a statement that the king’s death is a “great loss” as he “played an outsized role in building his country.”
Secretary of State John Kerry lamented that it was a “sad day.”
“The United States has lost a friend, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and the world has lost a revered leader,” Kerry said. “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom and vision. I loved my visits with him as a senator and as secretary. Even as he battled age and illness, he held on to his sense of determination. His stories of his father and of his family were remarkable. He was so proud of the Kingdom’s journey, a brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace.”
“The courageous Arab Peace Initiative that he sponsored remains a critical document for the goal we shared of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security. He also made great strides to invest in the Saudi people, and the Kingdom’s infrastructure and economic development. The scholarship program that bears his name represents an enormous, far-sighted contribution to Saudi Arabia’s future prosperity. I know he was very proud of his role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and as leader of his people.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued condolences “on behalf of all the men and women of the Department of Defense.”
“Like his father, who founded modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah was a man of tremendous character and courage – a historic figure dedicated to advancing the lives of his people at home as well as his country’s leadership abroad. He was a committed friend and partner of the United States. And he was a powerful voice for tolerance, moderation, and peace – in the Islamic world and across the globe,” Hagel said.
“I extend my condolences, thoughts, and prayers to King Abdullah’s family, and to all the people of Saudi Arabia. May he rest in peace as we celebrate his rich legacy for many years to come.”
Amnesty International reported that Friday’s scheduled flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was postponed because a doctor determined he “would not be able to withstand” his next round of lashes yet.
Badawi, a 31-year-old married father of three, was sentenced to 10 years behind bars and 1,000 lashes spread out over a 20-week period for “insulting Islam” through articles posted on his website.