UNITED NATIONS – The world's nations paid tribute Monday to Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah, praising his development of the oil-rich nation, his generosity to the needy and his promotion of peace in the Middle East.
At the start of the ceremony, diplomats from the U.N. General Assembly's 193 member states stood for a minute in silent tribute to the Saudi leader who died Jan. 23 at the age of 90.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Abdullah "a wise and compassionate leader" and "a champion against global hunger" who opposed extremism and sought reconciliation among people of different faiths and cultures.
The king gave the U.N. World Food Program its largest single donation — $500 million — during the 2008 crisis over high food prices and generously supported humanitarian efforts in Syria and Iraq, Ban said, including a $500 million donation to the U.N. last summer to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqis uprooted by the Islamic State extremist group's takeover of a large swath of their country.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Abdullah "planted many seeds for Saudi Arabia's future," especially in education with a scholarship program that today has 87,000 Saudis — nearly half women — studying in the United States and 33,000 elsewhere in the world.
"These scholarship students have not only been ambassadors for Saudi Arabia around the world, but upon returning home, they are ambassadors for the world in Saudi Arabia," she said.
Power pointed to other legacies — Abdullah's Arab Peace Initiative aimed at a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S.-Saudi counterterrorism relationship including fighting violent extremist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group and combating foreign fighters, and his efforts to expand interfaith dialogue.
Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi thanked the many speakers saying: "With his departure, the world has lost a long-life shining star, and a remarkable prominent leader. He was amongst the noblest of men, the most courageous, and the most generous."