For Saudi King Salman, his very first visit to Washington DC this weekend was an opportunity both for business and pleasure.
On Friday, he met with President Barack Obama at the White House, where the two leaders discussed the recent nuclear deal with Iran and the civil war in Yemen. A day later, he hosted a gala at Washington’s swish Andrew Mellon Auditorium, where two of the guests of honour were old friends of the family: 86-year-old twin sisters Jackie Voskamp and Joyce Kriesmer.
The twins, who live in San Diego, have now met three Saudi kings since 1947, when Salman’s father, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, visited American ex-pats in the Saudi oil town of Dharan. Born in Los Angeles in 1929, as teenagers Jackie and Joyce had relocated to the then-remote desert settlement, where their father Roy was one of a group of US oil workers hired to set up a drilling operation, which would later become Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest and most valuable oil firm.
According to the sisters, who were interviewed ahead of Saturday’s gala by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dharan at the time was a makeshift, military-style community without hotels, restaurants or paved streets. Temperatures regularly topped 45C, while sandstorms and even locust swarms would sweep through the town. There were 20 men to every woman, and women – then as now – were considered second-class citizens.
It caused quite a stir, then, when the Saudi King was photographed greeting the comely Californian twins during his 1947 visit to Dharan to meet the wives and 29 children of the American workers. Jackie and Joyce wore matching polka-dot dresses as they shook hands with the monarch, a meeting that was captured on camera for Life magazine by photgrapher David Douglas Duncan.
Later, both women met and married American men working in Saudi Arabia, though the couples were forced to fly to nearby countries to have Christian wedding ceremonies. Both remained in the kingdom for decades and had children there before separately moving back to southern California late in life.
In 2008, they and other so-called “Kids of ’47” were invited to Dharan for the 75th anniversary of Aramco. All but four of the original 29 returned, and were greeted by King Abdullah, half-brother of Salman. Local children participated in a re-enactment of the 1947 ceremony, with two teenages even wearing matching polka-dot dresses. “We were treated like rock stars,” Joyce told The Union-Tribune.
King Salman, 79, assumed the Saudi throne in January on his half-brother’s death. In May, he skipped a summit of Gulf Arab states at Camp David, widely understood as a snub to Mr Obama over the US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran. But following the talks between the two on Friday, the Saudi administration said it was content with Mr Obama’s promise that the nuclear deal will not negatively impact on the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia and Iran are regional rivals, with opposing interests in Syria and in Yemen, where an Arab coalition led by the Saudis and backed by the US is fighting Houthi forces allied with Iran.
King Salman made the most of his visit to Washington, booking the city’s Four Seasons hotel in its entirety, and forcing other guests in the 222-room hotel to move out.Reuse content