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President's hotel stay fit for a king

In Abu Dhabi, Bush enjoyed swanky digs in a suite the size of a basketball court.

January 15, 2008|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — President Bush's accommodations are never shabby when he travels abroad. But consider life at his hotel in Abu Dhabi, where a run-of-the-mill suite can go for $1,595 a night.

He was, a White House aide indicated, assigned one of the eight "Ruler's Suites" at the Emirates Palace Hotel on Sunday night. The suites are made available only to those who Sheik Khalifa ibn Zayed al Nuhayyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, says may stay there.

Think of a suite the size of a basketball court, with the ceiling high enough to permit a 3-point jump shot. In the more plebeian rooms, it would be tough to get off a shorter foul shot. But you do get a bathroom floor -- marble, of course -- decorated with red and yellow rose petals arranged on a towel.

A photographer assigned a routine, but still expansive, suite cracked: "I hate it when I can't find the bathroom in my hotel room."

Mark Silva, the Chicago Tribune's White House correspondent, who drew a slot assigned to the pool of journalists stationed each night in the president's hotel or nearby, said accommodations were something beyond an upscale Palm Beach resort -- calling them "The Breakers on steroids."

The hotel is reputed to have cost $3 billion. A walk from end to end covers more than half a mile.

As for Bush's costs: They were absorbed by the government of the United Arab Emirates, said Gordon D. Johndroe, the spokesman for the National Security Council, who accompanied the president.

Even before the president arrived at Hotel Bling, Khalifa presented Bush with genuine bling: a necklace with a medallion of 18-karat gold featuring a hand-enameled U.S. flag, set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Don't look for the president or Laura Bush, who did not accompany her husband on his eight-day journey across the Middle East, to be wearing it around their home in Texas -- or anywhere else. By State Department rule, it must be turned over to the U.S. government.

The United Arab Emirates, by the way, can afford the giveaways. It brings in approximately $225 million in oil revenue -- daily.

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported last week that Israeli officials had problems with the White House plan for Bush to visit Bethlehem, despite efforts to boost Holy Land tourism. They were concerned that if he drove there, he could not avoid seeing the 26-foot-high security walls made of concrete at the northern entrance to the city, surrounding Rachel's Tomb.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had recently visited Bethlehem, insisted that Bush would go to the West Bank town.

The compromise: Bush would travel by helicopter. The view of the barrier from the air isn't as stark as the view Palestinians get from the ground.

The negotiators' minuet notwithstanding, Bush entered the West Bank by road when fog made a helicopter flight unwise. The route to Ramallah, his first stop, took him directly past another segment of the Bethlehem wall and a checkpoint. Later, the weather lifted and he flew on to Bethlehem.

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james.gerstenzang @latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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