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Having Tea with Hussein

King Hussein took on an importance to American Jews that went well beyond the details of his 1994 treaty with Israel

by Tom Tugend

February 11, 1999 | 7:00 pm

While the leaders of nations eulogized King Hussein for his statesmanship and advocacy of peace, one Los Angeles couple remembered the Jordanian monarch for his human and social touch.

Edward Sanders, one of the most senior Jewish leaders in the United States, and his wife, Rose, were at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for their annual checkup last November.

Their cardiologist mentioned that he had met with another patient who would enjoy some company. The "other" patient was King Hussein, then undergoing treatment at the Methodist Hospital, the cancer wing of the Mayo Clinic.

A meeting was arranged for the afternoon of the following day. The monarch and his entourage had taken over the entire ninth floor, and, as Ed and Rose Sanders passed through security, they wondered aloud as to the proper protocol in greeting His Majesty.

"If he extends his hand, you shake it," Hussein's chief of staff advised.

One large hospital room had been converted into a living room, and, as the Sanders waited, they eyed, but passed on, a big silver bowl of Jordanian almonds.

A few minutes later, Hussein entered, informal in a sport shirt and slacks, extended his hand, and shook all around.

"We conveyed to the king our affection and respect, and that we considered him a hero, particularly for concluding the peace treaty with Israel in 1994," said Sanders, who served as senior adviser to President Carter on Middle Eastern and Jewish affairs in the late 1970s.

Hussein had just returned from the Wye Plantation, where he had given the final push to bridge the differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The king was concerned whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would implement the provisions of the new agreement. "I'll call President Clinton about it," said Hussein, which he later did.

Another fine point of protocol came up when the king asked his guests what they would like to drink. Rose Sanders diplomatically retorted, "What will you have?"

Hussein said that he would opt for tea, the heavy Jordanian kind, and the Sanders said that they would do likewise.

"Having tea with the king," said Rose Sanders, "that was an unforgettable experience."

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