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U.S.: Bush Says U.S.-Saudi Ties Strong After Meeting Crown Prince

The strategic relationship that has bound the United States and Saudi Arabia goes back nearly 70 years, founded on a mutual need for oil and military security. But recently, that relationship has come under fire as the Middle East crisis fans passions in both countries. Yesterday, the Saudi and American leaders met in Texas to assess the state of their affairs, which affect everything from world oil prices to the direction of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Washington, 26 April 2002 (RFE/RL)) -- U.S. President George W. Bush met with Saudi leader Crown Prince Abdullah yesterday amid Saudi warnings that Washington will face "grave consequences" if it does not temper its support for Israel.

Saudi officials said Bush and Abdullah, who won Arab backing last month for a historic Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, discussed the Mideast crisis in talks that lasted for five hours at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Bush later told reporters the meeting had helped him forge a "close personal bond" with Abdullah, praising the prince for a peace drive that he called "a breakthrough moment" and vowing U.S.-Saudi ties would not founder, despite reports of deterioration. He also said he was grateful for a condemnation of terrorism from Abdullah, who did not address the press.

"Our two nations (U.S. and Saudi Arabia) share a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. I reiterated that all parties have responsibilities to help achieve that vision. The Palestinian Authority must do more to stop terror. Israel must finish its withdrawal [from the West Bank], including resolution of standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem in a nonviolent way."

Bush had also been expected to discuss with Abdullah possible military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is widely seen as a likely target in a future phase of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. But Bush said nothing about Iraq, in yet another sign that the war on terrorism appears to be stalled by the ongoing Mideast crisis, which moderate Arab countries want resolved before any possible U.S. military action against Baghdad.

Indeed, the summit came amid rising Arab anger at a perceived U.S. bias toward Israel and media reports that the Saudi leadership is finding it hard to justify to its people the decades-old strategic ties that link Riyadh to Washington.

Saudi Arabia has also been the target of bitter commentary in the U.S. media, which has blamed its leadership for inciting young Arabs to extremism. Fifteen of the 19 perpetrators of the 11 September terrorist attacks on America were Saudi citizens.

A report in "The New York Times" yesterday quoted an unidentified source close to the crown prince as saying Riyadh is considering an oil embargo to pressure the U.S. to adopt a balanced approach to the Mideast crisis.

Saudi officials in Texas vehemently denied they will ever use "oil as a weapon," as Saddam Hussein has urged oil-producing Arab states to do. But Saudi adviser Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters in Crawford, "If the U.S. doesn't do more to reduce the [Mideast] violence, there will be grave consequences for the U.S. and its interests."

"The New York Times" report, which also included a threat that Riyadh could end its historic alliance with the U.S. and adopt a more radical policy in line with some other Arab nations, struck an ominous chord that briefly shook world oil markets. Prices shot up on fears a worsening ties could disrupt business between the world's leading economy and Saudi Arabia, its top oil producer.

But Bush said he expects Riyadh to honor its vow not to use oil as a diplomatic weapon against Washington.

Abdullah, who became Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler after his brother King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995, has made no secret of his displeasure at the Bush White House over its perceived bias toward Israel.

Yesterday's summit had been scheduled for August 2001 but was called off at the last minute by Abdullah in protest at the Bush administration's Mideast policy.

But analysts also say it is highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia will seriously alter its relationship with America, whose military protects Riyadh in exchange for stable oil prices and regular supply. Saudi Arabia is also a top buyer of U.S. military equipment and commercial aircraft.

Judith Kipper is co-director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. She made this observation: "Saudi Arabia and the United States need each other. This is why it has been a strategic relationship in the interest of both in each country for more than 50 years and that's not going to change. Is the relationship bruised a little bit, is there a strain, are there some outstanding issues? Yes, of course. But the strategic foundation of the relationship has not changed and is not going to change."

However, Kipper says she believes that a period of colder U.S.-Saudi ties could harm American efforts to extend its war on terrorism elsewhere. She says in the face of growing Arab anger at U.S. policy, Saudi Arabia may be less willing to cooperate with future American war plans or nonmilitary counterterrorism efforts such as intelligence and information sharing.