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Saudi Prince Warns Bush to Rein In Israel

Mideast: Leader predicts 'grave consequences' if the U.S. does not do more to halt the violence. But he pledges that oil will not be used as a weapon.

April 26, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRAWFORD, Texas — Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivered a stern warning to President Bush on Thursday that the United States would face what a top Saudi advisor said were "grave consequences" if it does not rein in Israel.

Abdullah, the de facto ruler of the desert kingdom, spent five hours at Bush's ranch in central Texas, the informality of the setting barely masking the divisions in Washington's relations with one of its most important Middle East partners.

Bush, offering an upbeat account after the meeting, said the United States and Saudi Arabia shared a vision of Israelis and Palestinians living in peace. He said he and Abdullah had "established a strong personal bond."

He also said the Saudis had made it clear "that they will not use oil as a weapon" in Middle East diplomacy. Abdullah's advisor, Adel Jubeir, confirmed the pledge.

"I appreciate that, respect that, and expect that to be the case," Bush added.

The meeting, scheduled more than a month ago, took on increasing importance by the day amid the Israeli-Palestinian violence. During the last six weeks, Palestinian militants repeatedly engaged in suicide bombings and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dispatched troops to occupy Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Since March 29, Israeli troops have confined Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to a small corner of his headquarters in the city of Ramallah.

Reporting on Abdullah's sharp-edged message to Bush, Jubeir, the crown prince's foreign policy aide, said: "If Sharon is left to his own devices, he will drag the region over a cliff, and that does not serve America's interest and it does not serve Saudi Arabia's interest."

"If the United States doesn't do more to reduce the violence," he said Abdullah told Bush, "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 U.S. to do to influence Sharon's policies.

However, the U.S.-Saudi relationship, nurtured over many decades, is built on Saudi oil, American weapons and a recognition that each country needs the other--not just for economic reasons but also for maintaining stability in the inflamed Middle East.

The United States buys 1.7 million barrels of Saudi oil a day, more than twice the amount of 15 years ago, and is Saudi Arabia's biggest customer.

The Saudis in turn buy more American weapons than anyone else--$39 billion in purchases in the 1990s, a figure that in some cases has kept individual U.S. businesses from going under.

Jubeir said Saudi Arabia did not see oil as a weapon to be wielded in its foreign policy battles.

"Oil is not a tank. You cannot fire oil," he said, pointing the thumb and forefinger of each hand as though they were pistols.

Bush and Abdullah are known for speaking bluntly, and Jubeir said the crown prince did little to hide his growing dismay with the failure of the United States to exert some muscle on Sharon.

"He's direct and sincere and he doesn't mince his words--like the president," he said of Abdullah.

Speaking with reporters after Abdullah left the ranch, Bush said, as he has in the past, that the Palestinian Authority must do more to end terrorist attacks, and Israel must complete its withdrawal from the territory it has recently occupied. He said Israel must end the standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem, where its troops have besieged Palestinian gunmen, civilians and others in the Church of the Nativity.

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."

Though the meeting was drawn up with a wide agenda, reflecting the reach of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, the accounts by Bush and a senior administration official made it clear that the discussion was monopolized by the efforts to calm the latest Middle East tensions.

Asked whether Bush had assured Abdullah that he would put more pressure on Israel, the senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "The president talked again with the crown prince about the responsibilities of all the parties" in the region.

The official, offering an account that differed in tone from that of the Saudi advisor, said Abdullah "expressed nothing as a threat to U.S.-Saudi relations."

The talks have been 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 suspected hijackers were Saudis.

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