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Bush, Saudi King Discuss Rising Oil Prices


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today, one of his last stops on his tour of the Middle East. Earlier today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice slipped away to make a quick, unannounced trip to Iraq. She met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and is now on her way back to Saudi Arabia.


NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us from the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Secretary Rice was hoping in going to Iraq to give some momentum to the process of political reconciliation there. What came of her meeting? Short trip.

KELEMEN: Yeah. She really just went to congratulate Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for getting this legislation passed - it's called the deBaathification law. Basically it reinstates former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs. And she pushed for progress on other legislation that the U.S. thinks will be key to political reconciliation. She had a news conference with Iraq's foreign minister, and she said while political progress might seem slow to those of us in Washington, she said she thinks it's moved along quite remarkably, given the recent history in Iraq.


Mr. Bush told reporters here that he decided not to go to himself, to focus on his visit. But when it looked like there was some momentum on this legislative front, he decided to send Secretary Rice. It was obviously easier security-wise as well, since she traveled alone without any reporters and a big entourage.

MONTAGNE: But just briefly, Michele, even though there was a lot of - a long wait for this deBaathification bill, there's plenty of skepticism about how much this law will actually do.

KELEMEN: Well, even - she also was asked that and said that, you know, in any legislative process it doesn't come out the way that you want it to. But the Bush administration certainly thinks this might add some momentum to the process.

MONTAGNE: So, back to President Bush there in Saudi Arabia - where you are - he met with Saudi King Abdullah, and one of the things they discussed was high oil prices, and I gather how - the president pointed out how it's affecting the U.S. economy.

KELEMEN: He said that this basically $100-a-barrel oil has been tough on the U.S. economy. He said OPEC countries should understand that it would - that it should put more supply on the market to help out, that if U.S. economy is hurt too much, the U.S. is the main consumer and that would ultimately hurt sales.

Saudi Arabia's petroleum minister, Ali Al-Naimi, said his country makes decisions based on the market. Let's take a listen to what he had to say in response to Mr. Bush when he was speaking to reporters here in Riyadh today.

Mr. ALI AL-NAIMI (Petroleum Minister, Saudi Arabia): We will raise production when the market justifies it. This is our policy.

KELEMEN: By the way, one of the reporters asked him if Americans can ever expect to get back to $1.50-a-gallon gas, and he joked that if he could predict that he'd be living in Las Vegas right now. So no calming words for American consumers here in Riyadh.

MONTAGNE: Well, one could construe the oil minister's comments as a rebuke to President Bush, which would be significant, since ministers from the oil cartel OPEC often follow the Saudis' lead about whether to increase production to take the pressure off rising prices.

KELEMEN: But he did also talk about concerns about the U.S. economy and concerns that if there were a recession in the U.S., that it would hurt the market, that Saudi Arabia's ultimate goal is no volatility in the oil market. So keeping us guessing, so to speak.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen speaking from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, there with President Bush. Thanks for joining us.

KELEMEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Thanks for joining us.

KELEMEN: My pleasure.