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Bush Asks for Saudi Help in Lowering Fuel Prices

President Bush (left) and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah

President Bush is pressing Saudi Arabia to increase its oil output and help bring prices down on the world market. Top aides to the president say progress was made when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah went to the Bush family ranch Monday for talks on energy and other matters.

The visit came at a time of rising oil prices on the international market, and growing anger among American consumers.

President Bush has been under pressure to take immediate action. And he made clear before the talks, that he would urge the Saudi leader to increase oil production capacity, a move that could eventually help rein in the spiraling cost of gasoline. "High oil prices will damage markets and he knows that. I look forward to talking to him about that. As well, we will talk about his country's capacity. It is an important subject," he said.

The United States is the world's biggest oil consumer, and Saudi Arabia is the biggest producer. And while the Bush administration insists there is no magic fix for the current spike in oil prices, officials say they were pleased with the ideas put forward by the Saudis during their visit to Texas.

They briefed officials on a plan announced last week by the Saudi oil minister. It calls for steps to increase oil production capacity from the current level of 11 million barrels a day, to 12.5 million a day by 2009.

White House National Security Advisor Steve Hadley calls it a very good plan. "When you increase the capacity by a significant amount, which they are talking about, that can't help but have a positive downward effect on prices," he said.

During a session with reporters near the Bush ranch, Mr. Hadley was asked if there could be some relief for consumers soon. He predicted the plan will have an impact, noting the United States and Saudi Arabia are building a framework for dealing with energy issues. "I would say the outlook for the two countries having a common approach to dealing with the problem of assuring adequate capacities and stability to market has certainly been advanced by the Saudis coming forward with a very ambitious plan for investment and expanding capacity. That is a good thing and speaks to some of the concerns we have on the U.S. side," he said.

Mr. Hadley said one of the issues they are looking at is how to expand refinery capacity in the United States. The foreign policy adviser to the Saudi government, Adel al-Jaber, said increased oil production will have no impact on prices if the raw crude can not be refined. "It will not make a difference if Saudi Arabia ships an extra one million or two million barrels to the United States. If you cannot refine it, it cannot turn it into gasoline," he said.

There were other issues, of course, on the agenda. Mr. Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah also talked about Iraq, the Middle East peace process, the war on terrorism and bringing democracy to the region.