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U.S.: Bush, Saudi Prince Meet To Discuss Oil, Mideast Politics

Bush said, "the price of crude is up because not only is our economy growing, but the economies of India and China's economies are growing." U.S. President George W. Bush met today at his Texas ranch with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss the persistent rise in the price of oil and, presumably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks ago, Bush was host to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch in Crawford, and in a few weeks he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, although an exact date and location have yet to be announced.

Washington, 25 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Customarily, President Bush and his guests speak with reporters at least briefly after their meetings. But there was no such exchange today because Prince Abdullah rarely makes public comments.

But before the meeting, Bush made it clear that he would urge the crown prince to have Saudi Arabia increase its oil output in an effort to moderate its price.

"I'm talking about energy, and the crown prince understands that it's very important for there to be a -- make sure that the price [of oil] is reasonable. A high oil price will damage markets, and he knows that. I look forward to talking to him about that, as well as his country's [oil] capacity," Bush said.

Saudi Arabia says it is now pumping about 9.5 million barrels a day, close to its limit of 11 million barrels. Last week, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said his country would increase production to 12.5 million barrels in four years. Eventually, he said, Saudi daily capacity will rise to 15 million barrels.

One reporter asked Bush if increases in Saudi Arabia production now could have an effect on gasoline prices, which are at record highs around the world. Bush replied: "That depends on supply and demand. One thing is for certain: The price of crude [oil] is driving the price of gasoline, the price of crude is up because not only is our economy growing, but the economies of India and China's economies are growing."

Bush soon interrupted his answer, saying he needed to welcome his guest. Abdullah was arriving just then, and Bush walked about 20 meters to his entourage to kiss the crown prince on both cheeks.

The U.S. president then led Abdullah by the hand up a walkway between two flower beds to the Bush ranch house for their meeting. Also present were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and lower-ranking aides.

Cheney met yesterday with Abdullah at a Texas hotel in preparation for today's meeting at the Bush ranch.

Another topic certain to be on the meeting's agenda was the Middle East peace process. Israel and the Palestinians are holding to a cease-fire that has been broken a few times by both sides.

Meanwhile, Israel is planning to increase construction at one of the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. At his meeting with Sharon two weeks ago, Bush urged the Israeli leader not to expand the settlement, saying it was not consistent with the "road map" to peace.

Sharon replied that he intends to adhere to the "road map" -- which is backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. But the Israeli leader did not say he would cancel plans for enlargement of the settlement.