Update on the United Arab Emirates Visit
Assistant to the President and Press Secretary
Dinner in the Abu Dhabi Desert
Greetings - first, a word from last night's dinner in the desert in Abu Dhabi. The word: fantastic. It was colder than I expected it would be - it actually rained yesterday in Abu Dhabi, and I heard many people say it had been months since they'd had rain. We took helicopters to a remote location in the desert where our hosts had set up three tents for shelter, and they provided the President with a display of some of the falcons they raise there.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs, asked me if I would like to hold one -- I asked, "is it heavy?" He said, "no, not heavy at all." He told me to put my left palm facing up in what looks like a glove without fingers...then he told me to hold onto the two strings...I did...and he was so heavy to me. But he was absolutely beautiful. They told me that falcons can see for 3-4 miles...and they are usually released back into the wild when they are 2 or 3 years old. The President also got to see more falcons today in Dubai - they are wonderful, majestic birds.
Dinner consisted of a lot of food -- and it was all cooked in a traditional way, in large metal boxes with very hot coals. The food cooks for a long time - my favorite was the Sea Bream...and then for dessert I enjoyed the dates. A large fire roared in the center of the large, circular outdoor area where we ate. Everyone mixed and mingled - including several women from Abu Dhabi, including those who serve in high positions in the UAE government.
Conversations ranged from educational student exchanges, renewable energy, foreign investment, sustainable development and...Seinfeld. Yes, Seinfeld. We all enjoyed the evening - and the President said it was one of his most memorable. I agree. It was a very casual evening, and it reminded me of a cookout we would host in the states.
After the dinner, I headed to the press filing center to do an interview and say hi to the traveling press corps. In the elevator, I met a little girl of about 3 years old in the hotel where the press file is located -- she and I were both wearing lavender colored jackets. She looked at me and said, "purple and purple" - she was very cute. Outside, she started jumping up and down -- I didn't see much reason for excitement at 11 p.m. in the pouring rain, but her mom said she'd never seen rain before...as I got into our car, she told me, "tomorrow, I'm going to see a rainbow." I so hope she did.
Innovation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
Today, the President started his day with a 7:30 a.m. briefing, and then an interview with the Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren (airs tonight).
He also got a tour of an exhibit showing the future of Abu Dhabi, including new Louvre and Guggenheim museums...a performing arts center, and a national museum of culture and history. Before leaving Abu Dhabi, he was given a presentation of several energy projects that are planned, including for a town of 25,000 people, which will be fully solar-powered and use light rail for transportation. I think they'll be successful, even though we didn't see the sun once while we were there.
Next, he traveled to Dubai, a thriving business hub, where he was greeted by approximately 10 girls of about 8 years of age who performed a traditional dance for him. The President tapped his foot and beamed at the young ladies, then he took a group photo. Some of the girls had beautiful henna-like art painted on their hands.
He also met with Young Arab Leaders, an organization that is helping to create a network of young Arab men and women throughout the Middle East who will develop initiatives throughout the region. He also had lunch with students from the Dubai School of Government, a research and teaching institution focusing on public policy in the Arab world.
A Grand Arrival in Saudi Arabia
Upon leaving, the President spent a bit of time with folks from the U.S. Consulate - then he said good-bye to our UAE hosts and boarded Air Force One for Saudi Arabia.
Our arrival in Riyadh was also grand - including a 21-gun salute, as well as a chance for the Saudi Delegation to shake the President's hand, and a chance for us to shake the King's hand. We were then whisked in the motorcade to the King's guest palace where we await another wonderful meal.
Tomorrow, he's been invited to the King Abdallah's farm. I hear we've brought some cooler weather and possibly some rain to Saudi -- I hope they don't mind.
Middle East Trip