Bush urges OPEC to pump more oil, Saudis ready

( dpa ) - Saudi Arabia responded favourably Tuesday to a call by visiting US President George Bush for an increase in oil output to tame spiralling prices. But Bush's warnings about Iran's "threats" to regional security fell on deaf ears.

In response to a complaint by Bush about high energy prices, Saudi Arabia's oil minister on Tuesday signalled his country's readiness for an output increase.

Bush, on a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia - the world's largest oil exporter - warned the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) of the consequences of unaffordable oil prices on the world economy.

The US leader said he would hope that during its discussions on supply levels OPEC would understand that "when their biggest consumer's economy (the United States) suffers, it means less purchases, less oil and gas sold."

"When consumers have less purchasing power, it could cause the economy to slow down," Bush said."I hope OPEC nations put more supply on the market. It would be helpful," he noted.

Responding to Bush's complaint, Saudi Minister of Oil Ali al-Naimi signalled his country's readiness to increase oil output this year.

An increase would be discussed during OPEC's upcoming meeting in Vienna on February 1, al-Naimi said.

The kingdom could however not unilaterally make a decision on an output increase but would have to coordinate with other OPEC members, the minister noted on Tuesday.

Rocketing oil prices, which have recently surpassed the 100-dollar mark, were among the issues that Bush discussed with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

On Monday, Qatari Energy Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said the rise to the 100-dollar mark was a fleeting development.

His statement came in response to concerns voiced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy about high oil prices during a visit to Qatar.

"We, as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, always act when we see a decrease in crude oil in the market," he added.

In response to Western concerns about price levels, OPEC's Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri said output might be increased at the group's meetings in February and March.

His repeated warnings about Iran's "threats" to regional security and "sponsorship" of extremism in the area failed to get Bush the support, which he hoped for during his Gulf tour.

Striking a note of caution, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal urged Washington and Tehran to avoid escalation in the troubled region.

The kingdom would discuss with Iran any concerns it may have regarding its policies in the region, the minister said ahead of Bush's regional tour.

Kuwait, another Gulf country that Bush visited, is sending its foreign minister to Tehran on a diplomatic offensive to defuse tensions between the US and Iran.

Bush offered Saudi Arabia an arms deal estimated to be worth 20 billion dollars.

US Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Congress would first have to be informed of new arms exports to Riyadh. A senior White House official confirmed intensive bilateral talks on arms deliveries were under way.

The arms package includes Patriot missiles, satellite-guided weapons and high-tech munitions, according to media reports.

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