Bush: Saudi oil boost just a start

President says US must also act to ease gasoline crisis; set to meet with PA, Jordanian leaders.

bush abdullah 224.88 (photo credit: )
bush abdullah 224.88
(photo credit: )
US President George W. Bush said Saturday that the Saudis' modest increase in oil production is "something but it doesn't solve our problem" of soaring gas prices. Taking note of the kingdom's recent decision to raise production by 300,000 barrels a day, the president said the United States must act, too, to ease the gasoline crisis. He mentioned steps such as developing alternate fuels, improving conservation and expanding domestic exploration. "We've got to do more at home," the president said on a lawn of a resort overlooking the Red Sea. He spoke after a private meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Bush said he told Saudi King Abdullah during their talks on Friday that the king should be concerned that high energy prices are hurting some of Saudi Arabia's biggest oil customers, including the United States. The kingdom decided May 10 on the production increase to help meet US needs after Venezuela and Mexico cut back on oil deliveries. Oil minister Ali al-Naimi made that announcement Friday. "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 told reporters. "So I was pleased they had increased production by 300,000, but I'm also realistic to say to the American people, we've got to do more at home," the president said. As gas prices keep climbing, Bush is promoting moves that have long been part of his agenda. These include 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. All the ideas have been stymied in Congress, and critics say Bush's approach would not offer short-term relief to families. Bush said he made his concerns about the oil supply clear to King Abdullah on Friday in Saudi Arabia, telling the king: "You've got to be concerned about the effects of high oil prices on some of the biggest customers in the world. And not only that, of course, high energy prices are going to cause countries like mine to accelerate our move to alternative energy." He said Saudi Arabia was 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. "Our problem in America gets solved when we aggressively go for domestic exploration. Our problem in America gets solved if we expand our refining capacity, promote nuclear energy and continue our strategy for the advancement of alternative energies as well as conservation." After talks in Saudi Arabia, which followed his two-day visit to Israel, Bush arrived in Egypt to harsh criticism in the state-run media that he was tilting too far toward Israel in Middle East peace negotiations. "Bush aims to do nothing but appease Israel," wrote Mursi Atallah, the publisher of 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." Akhbar Al-Youm also on Saturday published a picture of Bush hugging Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and captioned it "lovers." There was a similar reaction while Bush was in Saudi Arabia. "We are all aware of the special US-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." He also criticized Israel for the "humanistic suffering weighed upon the West Bank and Gaza Strip population" of Palestinians. He said Israel's "continued policy of expanding settlements on Palestinian territories" undermines the peace process. In his first meeting Saturday, Bush said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "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." 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." Taking note of his meetings in Israel, Saudi Arabia and in Egypt, Bush said, every meeting "helps advance" progress toward the goal of getting a state defined and dealing with complex challenges. They include border issues, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security concerns, before he leaves office in January. "I believe we can do that," Bush declared. Israelis and Palestinians have negotiated since December without visible progress. Bush did no negotiating while in Israel and left the Holy Land without signs of new progress. Bush planned to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas late Saturday. On Afghanistan, Bush praised Karzai as a courageous leader and urged other nations to help Afghanistan at a donors' meeting in Paris with problems ranging from agriculture to energy. "I hope the world rallies to your behalf," Bush told Karzai. "We'll certainly help." Karzai thanked Bush for US assistance over the past 6 years. "Please convey that gratitude to the American people," he said. Long after the US-led invasion to drive the al-Qaida-supported Taliban from power, Afghanistan remains gripped by fierce fighting. Bush's schedule for Sunday included talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad 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.