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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
96RIYADH2696 1996-07-11 13:54:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Riyadh
Cable title:  

THE SAUDI KING: FIT TO REIGN, NOT TO RULE

Tags:   PGOV PREL SA 
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1. (U) CLASSIFIED BY CHARGE D'AFFAIRES THEODORE
KATTOUF: 1.5 B, D.



2. (C) SUMMARY: THE KING'S RECENT MEDICAL AND
POLITICAL COMEBACK, EVIDENCED IN HIS SUSTAINED CHAIRING
OF THE WEEKLY COUNCIL OF MINISTERS SESSIONS AND HIS
SUBSTANTIVE ENGAGEMENTS WITH HIGH-LEVEL VISITORS, IS
PROOF OF FAHD'S CAPACITY TO REIGN. WHILE FRENCH AND
BRITISH VISITORS LEFT THEIR MEETINGS WITH THE KING
SURPRISED BY THE EXTENT OF HIS RECOVERY, THEY POINT TO
FAHD'S REDUCED STAMINA, IMPAIRED MENTAL AGILITY, AND
IMMOBILITY AS NATURAL LIMITS ON HIS ABILITY TO RULE IN A
DAY-TO-DAY CAPACITY. THE KING'S IMPROVED HEALTH
OBVIATES ANY RETURN TO AN ABDULLAH REGENCY, BUT WILL NOT
REVERSE THE GRADUAL ACCRETION OF AUTHORITY BY THE CROWN
PRINCE AND MINDEF SULTAN. END SUMMARY



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THE COMEBACK KING


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3. (C) DEFYING THE PREDICTIONS OF SOME WITHIN HIS
MEDICAL ENTOURAGE, THE KING IS ENJOYING A MEDICAL AND
POLITICAL COMEBACK. DATING FROM HIS JUNE 8 RECEPTION OF
OMAN'S SULTAN QABOOS, FAHD'S PUBLIC APPEARANCES HAVE
GROWN IN NUMBER AND IN CONSEQUENCE. MORE OFTEN THAN
NOT, FAHD IS CHAIRING THE WEEKLY COUNCIL OF MINISTERS
MEETING AND HIS RECEPTION OF FOREIGN V.I.P.'S HAS
EVOLVED FROM PERFUNCTORY "DROP-BY'S" TO ENGAGEMENTS OF
POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE. THE KING'S LEVEL OF ACTIVITY
SUGGESTS THAT THERE WILL BE NO IMMINENT RESUMPTION OF
THE CROWN PRINCE'S REGENCY. HOWEVER, RECENT WESTERN
VISITORS HAVE DRAWN SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS ABOUT
THE KING'S MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CAPABILITIES.



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RIFKIND ON FAHD: ONE TRACK MIND


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4. (C) THE BRITISH READ-OUT ON FAHD'S HEALTH,
FOLLOWING FOREIGN MINISTER RIFKIND'S JULY 1 MEETING WITH
THE KING (REFTEL), CLOSELY PARALLELS OUR ASSESSMENT OF
FAHD DURING SECDEF PERRY'S JUNE 29 VISIT. CAPABLE OF
GOING BEYOND PROTOCOL AND OF HANDLING A FOCUSED
SUBSTANTIVE EXCHANGE, FAHD IS NEVERTHELESS NOTICEABLY
MORE FREQUENTLY REPETITIVE AND "LESS SHARP." U.K.
AMBASSADOR ANDREW GREEN RELATED TO CHARGE THAT, IN
RESPONSE TO A QUESTION POSED BY RIFKIND, FAHD WAS UNABLE
TO SHIFT GEARS AND ADDRESS A TOPIC UNRELATED TO HIS
PRIMARY AGENDA. IN THE AWKWARD PAUSE WHICH ENSUED, THE
DELEGATION WAS QUICKLY SUMMONED TO A DINNER HOSTED BY
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD AL-FAYSAL. THE KING APPEARED TO
THE BRITISH OBSERVERS TO BE IN REASONABLY GOOD PHYSICAL
CONDITION, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.



--------------------------



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FRENCH TAKE: MENTALLY ENGAGED, PHYSICALLY DIMINISHED


--------------------------



--------------------------





5. (C) ACCORDING TO FRENCH EMBASSY COUNSELOR PAUL
ORTHOLAN, CHIRAC AND HIS DELEGATION WERE SURPRISED BY
THE KING'S LEVEL OF PARTICIPATION THROUGHOUT THE JULY
6-8 VISIT. FAHD WAS PRESENT AT THE AIRPORT, STANDING ON
THE TARMAC IN THE STIFLING JEDDAH HEAT AS CHIRAC'S PLANE
LANDED. WHILE THE ARRIVAL CEREMONY WAS TRUNCATED (E.G.,
NO NATIONAL ANTHEMS) IN ORDER TO REDUCE THE KING'S TIME
ON HIS FEET AND HIS EXPOSURE TO THE HEAT, FAHD DROVE
WITH CHIRAC TO THE GUEST PALACE AND LATER IN THE EVENING
HOSTED A DINNER, FOLLOWED BY A 90 MINUTE BILATERAL WHICH
INCLUDED A 15 MINUTE TETE-A-TETE BETWEEN FAHD AND THE
FRENCH PRESIDENT. AT THE CONCLUSION OF CHIRAC'S VISIT,
FAHD DROVE WITH CHIRAC TO THE AIRPORT AND SAW HIM OFF.



6. (C) WHILE THE KING REPEATED HIMSELF FREQUENTLY IN
HIS DINNER AND BILATERAL DISCUSSIONS, CHIRAC AND HIS
PARTY VIEWED THIS MORE AS AN ARAB MANNERISM, THAN A
MANIFESTATION OF HIS NOVEMBER 1995 STROKE. ORTHALON
NOTED THAT THE EXCHANGES FOCUSED ON THE PEACE PROCESS,
WITH LONG KINGLY DIGRESSIONS INTO PRIOR SAG INITIATIVES
TO PROMOTE PEACE IN THE REGION, BUT THAT WITHIN THIS
CONVERSATIONAL ORBIT, FAHD WAS FULLY ABREAST OF THE
CAIRO SUMMIT, THE G-7 LYON STATEMENT, AND THE EU
FLORENCE COMMUNIQUE. ON THE WHOLE, ORTHALON REPORTED,
KING FAHD APPEARED IN BETTER MENTAL SHAPE THAN THEY HAD
BEEN LED TO BELIEVE.



7. (C) HOWEVER, ORTHALON EMPHASIZED, CHIRAC WAS STRUCK
BY THE KING'S PHYSICAL DETERIORATION. (NOTE: CHIRAC IS
THE FIRST WESTERN OBSERVER TO HAVE VIEWED THE KING IN
ACTION OVER A SUSTAINED PERIOD OF TIME. TYPICALLY THE
KING HAS GREETED VISITORS STANDING IN A RECEPTION HALL,
BUT HAS NOT BEEN SEEN OR TELEVISED WALKING.) FAHD
APPEARED TO BE ALMOST CRIPPLED, ORTHALON REPORTED, AND
WALKED WITH "TREMENDOUS" DIFFICULTY, HUNCHED OVER, USING
A CANE, AND SUPPORTED ON EITHER SIDE BY AN AIDE. AT THE
END OF THE DINNER, FAHD REQUIRED ASSISTANCE IN STANDING
UP. FOLLOWING THE 90 MINUTE BILATERAL, THE KING WAS
UNABLE TO RISE AND CHIRAC LENT A HAND IN ASSISTING FAHD
TO A WHEELCHAIR. THE FRENCH DELEGATION DID NOT KNOW
WHAT TO MAKE OF FAHD'S DARK SUNGLASSES, WHICH HE WORE
THROUGHOUT THE DINNER AND SUBSEQUENT MEETING.



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COMMENT: A REIGNING MONARCH


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8. (C) FAHD'S APPARENT RECOVERY IS SUFFICIENT TO QUELL
DOUBTS AS TO HIS ABILITY TO REIGN. HIS CAPACITY TO
RULE, HOWEVER, APPEARS TRUNCATED. REDUCED STAMINA,
IMPAIRED MENTAL AGILITY, AND IMMOBILITY WILL DELIMIT
FAHD'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE DAY-TO-DAY AFFAIRS OF STATE.
THUS, WHILE THE KING APPEARS TO HAVE RECOVERED
SUBSTANTIALLY FROM HIS STROKE LAST NOVEMBER, IT IS ALSO
CLEARQ, HE QIKELY TO COMPLETELY REGAIN HIS
EARLIER FORM EITHER MENTALLY OR PHYSICALLY.
CONSEQUENTLY, WE ANTICIPATE THAT THE CROWN PRINCE AND
MINDEF SULTAN WILL CONTINUE TO FILL THE WIDE GAPS LEFT
BY THE KING'S REDUCED ABILITY TO MANAGE SAUDI DECISION-
MAKING.


KATTOUF