RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AP) – Saudi Arabian leaders made clear Friday they see no reason to increase oil production until their customers demand it, apparently rebuffing President Bush amid soaring U.S. gasoline prices.
During Bush’s second personal appeal this year to King Abdullah, Saudi officials stuck to their position that they are already meeting demand, the president’s national security adviser told reporters.
“What they’re saying to us is … Saudi Arabia does not have customers that are making requests for oil that they are not able to satisfy,” Stephen Hadley said on a day when oil prices topped $127 a barrel, a record high.
The Saudi government indicated that it is willing to put on the market whatever oil is necessary to meet the demand of its customers, Hadley said.
But even then, he said, Saudi leaders say increased production would not dramatically reduce pump prices in the United States.
The Saudis are investing in ways to increase oil production over time. Officials told Bush they are doing “everything they can do” for now to address a complicated market.
Hadley said the Bush administration will take the explanation back to its own experts and “see it if conforms.”
When Bush and Abdullah met in the kingdom in mid-January, the president also sought more Saudi output but got a chilly response to that plea. Saudi Arabia said it would increase production only when the market justified it and that production levels appeared normal.
Bush acknowledges that raising output is difficult because the demand for oil — particularly from China and India — is stretching supplies. Also, economists say prices are being driven up by increased demand, not slowed production.
High energy costs are a major drain on the U.S. economy, which is experiencing a slowdown that some think is already a recession. At the pump, gas prices rose to a national average of $3.78 per gallon on Friday, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.
Beyond oil, Iran also dominated the meeting between the president and the king. The two shared a concern over the recent in violence in Lebanon, where Hezbollah overran Beirut neighborhoods last week. The display of military power by the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, resulted in the worst internal fighting since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.
Hadley said the leaders shared concerns the recent events would “embolden Iran.” The U.S. and Saudi Arabia, he said, “are of one mind in condemning what Hezbollah did in bringing pressure on the duly elected government of Lebanon.”
“Iran, working directly and through Syria, was very much behind what happened in Lebanon over the weekend and it is another example of Iran taking actions that are contrary to the interests of those in the Middle East who want peace, security and freedom,” Hadley said.
On Thursday, the Hezbollah-led opposition and U.S.-backed government reached a deal to end the violence after Lebanon’s Cabinet reversed measures aimed at reining in the militants.