June 20, 2006

Bush “addiction” speech no longer rankles: Saudi

By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has
reassured Saudi Arabia's king that he will continue to
cooperate with the kingdom on energy issues even after his
pledge to wean America off Middle East oil, Saudi Arabia's
ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday.

Bush's pledge in January to cut U.S. oil imports from the
Middle East rankled some kingdom officials, because Saudi
Arabia had announced plans to spend $50 billion expanding oil
production to meet rising global demand.

"When that statement came out we got in touch with the
White House," Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal told
reporters at a news conference hosted by the United States
Energy Association.

Bush later sent a letter to Saudi King Abdullah pledging to
honor a 2005 agreement the two reached at Bush's ranch in
Crawford, Texas, Al-Faisal said. His remarks provided new
details on how the White House smoothed relations with the
Saudis after Bush's speech.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest crude oil exporter and
the leading voice within the OPEC cartel, and the United States
is the world's biggest oil guzzler.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Bush said the
United States should cut its oil imports from the Middle East
by 75 percent by 2025. House political advisors added the
remarks hours before Bush spoke, and Al-Faisal was "totally
blindsided" as he listened to the speech in Congress' visitors
gallery, an industry official later said.

After the speech, Saudi officials contacted the White House
seeking an explanation, Al-Faisal said. Bush later sent a
letter to Saudi King Abdullah pledging to honor the agreement,
he said.

"I can tell you that the President ... sent a letter to
King Abdullah affirming his commitment to the agreement that
they had reached in the April 2005 meeting in Crawford," he

In that Crawford meeting, Abdullah, then the Saudi Crown
Prince, walked arm-in-arm with Bush and both pledged to
cooperate on future energy issues.

Saudi Arabia detailed plans to boost its production
capacity and build new refineries, and Bush pledged to find
ways to boost U.S. refining capacity, Al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries, plans to boost production
capacity from 11 million barrels per day to 12.5 million bpd by

Expansion plans beyond 2009 are murky. Saudi Arabia has
called for consumer nations to offer a "roadmap" to ensure that
OPEC and other producers do not unleash so much capacity that
crude oil prices spiral downward as they did in the 1980s.

"By the time 2009 comes along we will have a clearer
picture as to where everybody stands," Al-Faisal said. "It will
be then that when we will make decisions on where to go."