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The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco — not a British firm — that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.

One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea.