Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told President Bush he was worried about the impact of high oil prices on the world economy, the White House said Wednesday. After their talks, Bush was hopeful that OPEC would authorize an increase in oil production.
The White House did not say there was any commitment from the king about increasing oil output. The kingdom holds the world’s largest oil supplies and is a major voice in decisions by OPEC.
Worries about the economy and high oil prices have shot to the front of the U.S. presidential campaign. The White House seemed eager to portray Bush as dealing with the politically potent issue as he came under blistering criticism from the campaign trail.
White House press secretary Dana Perino, traveling with the president on Air Force One en route to Egypt, offered a brief description of talks that Bush and the king had after dinner Tuesday night at the monarch’s horse farm.
“He (Bush) said that the king said that he understands the situation,” Perino said. “He (the king) is worried about high oil prices and how they can negatively affect economies around the world.
“The president said there’s a hope that as a result of these conversations that OPEC would be encouraged to authorize an increase in production,” Perino said.
She declined to provide more detail, saying they were private conversations.
Clinton: Bush ‘begging the Saudis’
Bush’s approach was sharply criticized by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday at the MSNBC Democratic debate in Las Vegas.
“President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic,” she said. “We should have an energy policy right now putting people to work in green-collar jobs as a way to stave off the recession, moving us towards energy independence.”
Bush on Tuesday had promised to talk with the king about soaring oil prices and to underscore that they were threatening the U.S. economy and hurting American families. In recent weeks oil prices have topped $100 a barrel, three times what they were when Bush took office.
Bush acknowledged on Tuesday that many producers already are working at maximum capacity and that demand for oil has outstripped supply, partially because of rising purchases by India and China.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali Naimi, said on Tuesday that the kingdom would raise production levels only when the market justifies it and that today’s inventory seemed normal.
Describing the talks Wednesday, Perino said Bush brought up the subject of high gas prices with the king.
OPEC to meet Feb. 1
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries next meets Feb. 1 in Vienna, Austria, to consider increasing output. OPEC oil accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s needs, and OPEC ministers often follow the lead of the Saudis when discussing whether to increase production to take the pressure off rising prices.
Bush arrived at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on a warm sunny day and was greeted at the bottom of the stairs of Air Force One by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two leaders were holding several hours of talks and then Bush was returning to Washington.
Egypt is the final stop on Bush’s eight-day Middle East trip that also has included visits to Israel, the Palestinian West Bank, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.