4 Min Read
By Matt Spetalnick
JERUSALEM, May 16 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush heads for Saudi Arabia on Friday to renew his appeal to help tame record oil prices and try to shore up Arab support for containing Iran's growing regional clout.
After a three-day trip to Israel, Bush will fly to Riyadh to see King Abdullah, who for the second time this year is expected to rebuff the president's face-to-face call to get OPEC pumping more oil to world markets.
Since Bush's last visit in January, oil prices have jumped nearly $30 to around $126 a barrel, adding to U.S. recession fears and boosting political pressure on the White House in a year when voters will pick Bush's successor.
Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, said the president would tell Abdullah that oil suppliers must, for their own interests, "take into account the economic health of their customers who pay these prices".
Abdullah will host Bush at his sprawling horse farm on the outskirts of Riyadh, the centrepiece of a two-day visit the White House says is mostly to pay tribute to 75 years of formal ties between Washington and the Islamic kingdom.
But the two leaders will also have a packed agenda as they try to mend relations that deteriorated in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
While oil prices are a source of friction, Bush and Abdullah will find some common ground on Iran, which they both see as a rising threat to stability in the Middle East.
Bush ratcheted up his rhetoric toward Tehran in a speech to Israel's Knesset on Thursday, saying critics' calls for talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were comparable to the "appeasement" of Adolf Hitler before World War Two.
He vowed that Washington would stand with Israel in opposing Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying it would be "unforgivable" if Tehran were allowed to get the bomb.
For his part, Abdullah will be looking for reassurances of Bush's commitment to push a $1.4 billion U.S. arms sale through an opposition-led U.S. Congress.
Democrats have threatened to block the deal to pressure Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, to increase oil output. OPEC members have blamed high oil prices on speculators and not any shortage of supply.
While Bush will likely offer nothing new on the arms front, the White House said the two countries would conclude agreements on nuclear energy and non-proliferation on Friday.
Bush's stop in Saudi Arabia precedes a weekend stop in Egypt to meet Palestinian leaders.
Bush will press the Saudis to do more to support faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks, which he wants to achieve a peace deal before he leaves office in January, a deadline widely regarded as unrealistic.
He also wants Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to strengthen ties with Iraq, something they have been reluctant to do since the U.S.-led invasion that many of them opposed. (Editing by Elizabeth Piper)