JEDDAH/CRAWFORD, 28 August — US President George W. Bush yesterday called Prince Abdullah, the regent, by telephone to reaffirm the "eternal friendship" between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The president played down the anti-Saudi campaign in the United States and said such talks did not reflect the strength and solidity of Saudi-US ties.
"It only reflects the opinion of the person who said it and it cannot affect the eternal friendship between the two countries," the Saudi Press Agency quoted Bush as saying.
The talks between Prince Abdullah and Bush came few hours before the president met with Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar ibn Sultan at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
The anti-Saudi comments, including one at a Pentagon briefing that the Saudis should be considered adversaries, has raised Saudi ire and sparked rare calls within the Kingdom to review relations with its main Western ally.
A trillion-dollar lawsuit by relatives of Sept. 11 victims against Saudi banks and charities also raised questions in the Kingdom about the strength of Saudi-US ties, although the administration is not a party to the legal action.
"The president did say that the recent Pentagon briefing did not reflect his views or the views of the secretary of defense," a White House official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "It was a warm conversation."
Prince Abdullah told Bush that "he and the Saudi people are upset over the tragedy of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation," and called on the US leader to support a pan-Arab peace plan. Bush said his administration would continue its efforts to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, recalling his stand that called for an independent Palestinian state. Prince Abdullah expressed his appreciation of the president’s noble feelings and affirmed the strength of Saudi-US relations.
Bush’s talks with Prince Bandar focused on bilateral relations, Iraq and Palestine, spokesman Ari Fleischer said. He said Bush insisted that Riyadh keep its pledges to help rebuild Afghanistan.
The president also told the ambassador that he believes the Iraqi leader is a menace to world peace but has made no decision on the best course of action to achieve Washington’s policy of ousting him, said Fleischer.
Asked whether Bush lessened Saudi opposition to military action, Fleischer replied that "every time the president meets with foreign leaders and the topic of Iraq comes up, the president thinks it’s a constructive exchange of ideas."
Fleischer called Prince Bandar "a very seasoned diplomat, ambassador to a very important country" and a man Bush enjoys. "He’s a very affable fellow, very good humor, speaks English better than most Americans," he said.