- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush, after meeting for five hours at his ranch with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, yesterday called on Israel to complete its withdrawal from the West Bank and predicted oil would not be used as a weapon against the United States.
"I made it clear to him that I expected Israel to withdraw, just like I've made it clear to Israel and we expect them to be finished," Mr. Bush said after the prince departed.
"As to where we head from now, one of the things that I think is important for the crown prince to have heard is we're interested in his advice," the president said. "We're interested in his counsel. We share a vision."
Mr. Bush then repeated his call for Israel to complete its withdrawal from Palestinian areas that it began entering March 29 in response to a rash of suicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists. Although he also called on "the Palestinian Authority to clamp down on terror," the president yesterday placed greater emphasis on Israel.
"Israel must finish its withdrawal, including resolution of standoffs in Ramallah, in Bethlehem, in a nonviolent way," he said. "We also agreed the world must join in offering humanitarian aid to the many innocent Palestinians who are suffering."
Mr. Bush and his advisers took pains to reaffirm America's strong friendship with Saudi Arabia and discredit press reports that had predicted deteriorating relations and a war of words between the prince and the president.
"You know, a strategy by some would be to split the United States and Saudi Arabia," Mr. Bush said. "It's a strong, important friendship, and he knows that and I know that. And we're not going to let that happen."
To that end, Prince Abdullah broke with tradition by declining to join the president at the post-meeting press conference, where he likely would have faced intense questioning. Instead, he sent his foreign policy adviser, Adel Jubeir, to brief reporters.
Mr. Jubeir made clear that the crown prince, who has a reputation for bluntness, warned Mr. Bush of growing Arab unrest over America's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"If Sharon is left to his own devices, he will drag the region over a cliff," he said. "What we can do as friends of the U.S. is make the U.S. aware of the dangers that can befall it in terms of loss of credibility, and loss of interests in the Arab and Muslim world.
"When we urge the U.S. to take steps to ensure peace and security in the region, it's because it serves America's interests and it serves our interests. [But] we cannot force the U.S. to do what we believe is in America's best interests."
Mr. Al-Jubeir also dismissed reports that the Saudis would cooperate in an Arab oil embargo if the Bush administration refused to lessen its support of Israel. The reports roiled oil markets and boosted the price of crude oil yesterday.
"Oil is not a weapon," the adviser said. "Oil is not a tank. You cannot fire oil."
Mr. Bush, who already had been concerned about rising oil prices, tried to calm fears of a repeat of the Arab oil embargo of nearly 30 years ago, which also was imposed in response to Western support of Israel.
"Saudi Arabia made it clear, and has made it clear publicly, that they will not use oil as a weapon," the president said. "I appreciate that, respect that and expect that to be the case."
Although Mr. Bush originally was expected to spend only three hours with the crown prince, the talks "went on quite awhile, because there was a lot to discuss," he explained.
At one point, he gave the prince a tour of his 1,600-acre ranch, pointing out the local flora and fauna.
"As a man who's got a farm, he understands the land," Mr. Bush said.
"I really took great delight in being able to drive him around in a pickup truck and show him the trees and my favorite spots. And we saw a wild turkey, which was good."
Prince Abdullah is first in line to the Saudi throne and is the kingdom's de facto day-to-day ruler because of the illness of King Fahd.
"One of the really positive things out of this meeting was the fact that the crown prince and I established a strong, personal bond," Mr. Bush said.
"We spent a lot of time alone, discussing our respective visions, talking about our families.
"I was most interested in learning about how he thought about things," he said. "I am convinced that the stronger our personal bond is, the more likely it is relations between our countries will be strong."
A senior administration official who was present at much of yesterday's talks agreed. Responding to questions from The Washington Times, the official said those who predicted a hostile meeting were wrong.
"The meeting was not at all contentious in fact, quite the opposite," the official said. "It couldn't have been warmer and more personal."
The two leaders found common ground in their deep religious beliefs.
"They talked about faith and the importance of faith and the difficult jobs they have," the official said. "The Saudi crown prince is a man who comes across as honorable and honest, a man who has a deep desire to do better for his people and for the region, who understands his deep responsibilities as the keeper of Islam."
Lower-level officials on both sides discussed areas of friction between the United States and Saudi Arabia, including a telethon that raised money for the families of Palestinian "martyrs." Mr. Bush made a brief reference to these discussions during his press conference.
"We discussed the need for Arab states to condemn terror, to stop inciting the violence, and as part of a long-term peace, to accept Israel as a nation and a neighbor," he said.

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