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Saudi ruler scolds U.S. for being too pro-Israel

Bush offers an upbeat account, saying he and the crown prince "established a strong personal bond.''

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas -- Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told President Bush bluntly Thursday that the United States must temper its support for Israel or face grave consequences throughout the Arab world.

In several sessions lasting five hours at the president's central Texas ranch, the crown prince told Bush that if the United States does not do more to stop military incursions into Palestinian areas by the forces of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, America will continue to lose credibility in the Middle East and create more instability there.

"If Sharon is left to his own devices, he will drag the region over a cliff," Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign policy adviser to the crown prince, said after the meetings between Prince Abdullah and Bush.

"If the United States doesn't do more to reduce the violence," Abdullah told Bush, according to al-Jubeir, "there will be grave consequences for the U.S. and its interests."

He did not elaborate on what the consequences would be. Nor did the Saudis say publicly what more they want the United States to do to influence Sharon's policies.

While they did not deny that Abdullah presented his case forcefully, Bush and American officials offered a far more positive account.

"One of the really positive things out of this meeting was that the crown prince and I established a strong personal bond," Bush said. "We spent a lot of time alone."

Bush and al-Jubeir said that the crown prince, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler in place of an ailing King Fahd, did not threaten to reduce Saudi oil exports to the United States. A person close to Abdullah had suggested on Wednesday in the New York Times that a reduction could happen if the United States continued what the Saudis view as a one-sided policy toward Israel.

Saudi Arabia is America's second-largest foreign supplier of oil, after Canada, and in 2001 exported nearly 605-million barrels of oil to the United States, or 8.5 percent of what the nation consumed.

The Saudis in turn buy more American weapons than anyone else: $39-billion in the 1990s.

"Saudi Arabia made it clear, and has made it clear publicly, that they will not use oil as a weapon," Bush said.

Al-Jubeir echoed the president. "Oil is not a weapon," he said. "Oil is not a tank. You cannot fire oil."

Other influential Middle Eastern officials continued to say privately, however, that the Saudis would be under mounting pressure to use their clout in the international oil market to put pressure on the United States. For example, they said, the Saudis could shut down Ras-Tanura, the main oil-supplying terminal on the Saudi coast, and say it was for maintenance.

Saudi officials also denied Thursday a suggestion in the New York Times from a person close to the royal family that their government might demand that the United States leave strategic military bases in Saudi Arabia if the Bush administration refuses to rein in Sharon.

Bush, who a week ago infuriated the Arab world by calling Sharon "a man of peace," said he told Abdullah that he was counting on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian areas, including, he said, resolving the standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem.

"I made it clear to him that I expected Israel to withdraw, just like I've made it clear to Israel," Bush said. "And we expect them to be finished. He knows my position. He also knows that I will work for peace, I will bring parties along. But I think he recognizes that America can't do it alone, that it's going to require a unified effort. And one of the main things about this visit was to solidify that effort."

The president said he and the crown prince, who left without speaking to journalists, had agreed that "the world must join in offering humanitarian aid to the many innocent Palestinians who are suffering."

Originally, the meeting between the president and the crown prince was scheduled as a discussion of a peace plan for the Middle East that Abdullah proposed in February, which was endorsed by the nations of the Arab League in March. But the intensifying violence in the Middle East and the anger of the Arabs over what they see as a U.S. bias toward Israel quickly overtook that plan.

Thursday's meeting seemed primarily to be a chance for the Saudis to lecture the American president, to strengthen their hand and to quiet the growing unrest in their streets.

No joint statement was issued after the meeting.

The Saudis objected to the U.S. characterization of the crown prince's peace initiative, an official said, according to the New York Times. Specifically, the official said, the United States emphasized the recognition of Israel in the statement but did not include the requirement that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders. Abdullah's plan calls for "normal relations" with Israel, the creation of a Palestinian state and Israel's return to its 1967 boundaries.

Bush administration officials said the president and the crown prince had discussed holding an international peace conference but did not come to a conclusion.

Saudi officials appeared skeptical about the idea, particularly given Sharon's isolation of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, in his compound in Ramallah, and Sharon's refusal to allow Arafat attend the Arab League meeting in March.

"You can't have a peace conference if Sharon gets to decide who attends and who doesn't attend," al-Jubeir said. "That's not a peace conference. That's not going to fly."

The talks Thursday were among the most anxiously awaited of the Bush administration. Relations between the two countries, often skittish, have been more on edge since the Sept. 11 attacks; 15 of the 19 hijackers involved were Saudis.

More recently, a Saudi telethon for the Palestinian cause drew widespread criticism in the West. By some accounts, it raised about $100-million -- some of it going to the families of suicide bombers. A senior U.S. official cited by the Los Angeles Times said that while Bush and Abdullah met privately, the U.S. delegation questioned Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal about the telethon.

The Saudis responded, the aide said, that the money was being used for humanitarian needs, and that they distinguished it from the help officials say Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has given to families whose children are suicide bombers.

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