Bush says Saudi oil boost is a start, but doesn't solve US problem

Business Materials 17 May 2008 21:15 (UTC +04:00)

U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday that the Saudis' modest increase in oil production "doesn't solve our problem," and that the United States must act itself to help bring down soaring gas prices.

"We've got to do more at home," the president said on the lush lawn of a resort overlooking the Red Sea.

Speaking after a private meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he mentioned moves that have long been part of his agenda but stymied in Congress, such as developing alternate fuels, improving conservation and expanding domestic exploration.

Bush said he told Saudi King Abdullah during talks Friday that the kingdom should be concerned that high energy prices are hurting some of its biggest customers, including the United States. He asked Abdullah for an injection of oil supply to help ease the pain.

"High energy prices are going to cause countries like mine to accelerate our move to alternative energy," he said he told the king.

But Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said Friday it had decided a week before Bush's visit to raise production by 300,000 barrels a day to 9.45 million barrels a day and didn't see any need to do more. Energy analysts called the boost a token - it represents just 3 percent of the total - and it was seen as a rebuff, if a gentle one, of Bush by Abdullah.

Still, the president steered clear of criticism of the Saudis. He noted they are increasing refining capacity as well as pumping more oil.

"It's not enough. It's something but it doesn't solve our problem," Bush said. "One of the interesting things about American politics is, those who are screaming the loudest for increased production from Saudi Arabia are the very same people who are fighting the fiercest against domestic exploration, against the development of nuclear power and against expanding refining capacity."

Bush's domestic energy plan includes opening a coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration and production and making it easier to build new oil refineries and nuclear power plants in the United States.

Even if Congress decided to approve them, the moves would not offer short-term relief to families.

On the last stop of a five-day trip that also included visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia, Bush arrived in Egypt to harsh criticism in the state-run media that he was tilting too far toward Israel in Mideast peace negotiations.

The president's two-day stay in Israel for 60th anniversary celebrations seemed to reinforce that view.

In a much-anticipated speech Thursday to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Bush showered Israel with praise, strongly reiterated its right to defend itself and only gently urged leaders to "make the hard choices necessary," without mention of concrete steps.

By contrast, he did not visit the Palestinian territories nor mention the Palestinians' plight. He spoke of them only in one sentence saying that Israel's 120th anniversary - in 2068 - would see it neighboring an independent Palestinian state.

"Bush aims to do nothing but appeasing Israel," wrote Mursi Atallah, the publisher of Egypt's Al-Ahram, the flagship daily of the state-owned press.

A front page editorial in Al-Gomhouria, another Egyptian state-owned daily, described Bush as "a failed president who delivers nothing but a lousy speech."

There was a similar reaction while Bush was in Saudi Arabia. "We are all aware of the special U.S.-Israeli relation and its political dimensions," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said. "It is, however, important also to affirm the legitimate and political rights of the Palestinian people."

Bush's first meeting Saturday was with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and the president said his host "wanted to make sure that my approach toward the Middle Eastern peace is firm and that we work hard to get the Palestinian state defined."

Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel and has long been seen as a key mediator in the Mideast dispute.

Bush said that in a speech in Egypt on Sunday, "I'll make clear that I believe we can get a (Palestinian) state defined by the end of my presidency and we'll work hard to achieve that objective."

In private with Mubarak, Bush called for political prisoners to be released, White House press secretary Dana Perino said. Political repression in Egypt has put distance between the Bush administration and Egypt's leadership, although in public, Bush has opted to gently nudge the Arab state about the matter.

Bush particularly focused his private appeal on jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour, whose case U.S. officials have pledged to raise each time they meet the Egyptians. Nour, who ran against Mubarak in 2005, was convicted on forgery charges his supporters say were trumped up.

Bush was meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late Saturday, hoping to ease his concerns as well.

Israelis and Palestinians have negotiated since December, their first round of talks in seven years, without visible progress. Bush did no negotiating while in Israel and left the Holy Land without signs of new progress.

But he argued on Saturday that every meeting "helps advance" the situation. Complex final-status issues such as the border of a Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem, as well as other short-term issues, are in the way of achieving an accord by the time Bush leaves office in January as he wants.

"I believe we can do that," Bush declared.

On Afghanistan, Bush praised Karzai as a courageous leader and urged other nations at a donors' meeting in Paris to help Afghanistan with problems ranging from agriculture to energy. Long after the U.S.-led invasion to drive the al-Qaida-supported Taliban from power, Afghanistan remains gripped by fierce fighting.

"I hope the world rallies to your behalf," Bush told Karzai. "We'll certainly help."

Karzai asked Bush to convey Afghans' gratitude to the American people.

Bush's schedule for Sunday before his trip-capping speech includes talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and several Iraqi leaders. He had planned to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora as well, but that session was canceled amid turmoil in Lebanon, AP reported.