`America can't do it alone'

Bush seeks Saudi help to end suicide attacks

U.S. told to restrain Israel

`Strong personal bond' seen

Amicable meeting at Texas ranch to ease rift in Saudi-U.S. alliance

April 26, 2002|By David L. Greene and Mark Matthews | David L. Greene and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush said yesterday that he had formed a "strong personal bond" in a meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, working to mend a relationship with a crucial Middle East ally that has been marred by disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, the president suggested that Saudi Arabia must do more to help prevent Palestinian suicide attacks if peace is to be achieved.

"America can't do it alone," Bush said after meeting for nearly five hours with the crown prince at his Texas ranch. "He's a man with enormous influence in the Middle East. I'm confident we can work together to achieve a peace."

U.S. and Saudi officials described the meeting between the leaders - which included more than an hour of one-on-one time and a ranch tour in Bush's pickup truck - as warm and friendly. But Bush and Abdullah met at a time of continued Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. And neither the Americans nor the Saudis denied that such violence has created fresh tensions in their longstanding alliance.

Abdullah came determined, Saudi officials said, to bluntly warn Bush that if he did not restrain Israeli military action, violence in the Middle East would rage on, and U.S. credibility among moderate Arabs would be grievously damaged.

Perceived U.S. support for Israel's military offensives against the Palestinians has created a firestorm in the Arab world, threatening to weaken the standing of America's friends in the region. Some Arab leaders have noted that past U.S. presidents have worked to restrain Israel and say they do not understand why Bush is not putting more pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"If Sharon is left to his own devices, he will drag the region over a cliff," said Adel al-Jubeir, Abdullah's foreign policy adviser. "There is a lot of anger at the U.S. for what is perceived as a lack of restraining Sharon. The crown prince wanted to make sure the president was aware of this."

Al-Jubeir said Abdullah was "very clear that allowing this problem to spiral out of control will have grave consequences for the U.S and its interests." But Al-Jubeir added: "Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have strong, solid historic ties. It is a relationship that is unbreakable."

A senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the crown prince "made no secret of his concerns" about America's perceived reluctance to restrain Sharon. This official added, however: "This meeting was quite personal, and there were no threats expressed."

Abdullah also assured Bush that he would not use U.S. dependence on Saudi oil as a "weapon" and that, no matter the tensions between the two countries, supplies of oil would continue to flow.

Departing from the president's custom in meeting with fellow world leaders, he did not hold a joint news conference with Abdullah. Speaking to reporters alone, Bush said he "made it clear to the crown prince that I expected Israel to withdraw, just like I've made it clear to Israel." Bush also said, "Israel must finish its withdrawal, including resolutions of standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem, in a nonviolent way."

Beyond the Middle East, the leaders spoke of the war on terrorism, another touchy subject because 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The senior Bush official said "the Saudis have been stalwart in intelligence-gathering in law enforcement and across the board."

Saudi officials also told Bush aides that money raised in a recent telethon in Saudi Arabia was used for humanitarian causes and was not used to persuade Palestinians to carry out suicide bombings in Israel.

Bush did not, apparently, persuade Abdullah to join in a campaign to topple President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. One Saudi official said that pressuring Hussein is "an arms control issue" separate from Bush's war on terrorism.

Efforts at peace in the Middle East dominated the conversations. If there is hope for ending violence there, Bush and Abdullah are sure to play key roles, a fact that gave their meeting powerful significance. Bush plunged into the crisis several weeks ago after months of inaction, sending Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on a peace mission that so far has produced little success.

Abdullah emerged as a leading voice among moderate Arabs when he introduced a peace plan that received backing of even radical states such as Iraq and Libya. Under his plan, Arab countries would recognize Israel and establish normal ties in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

Bush has called Abdullah's plan a good step toward peace. Yesterday, the president said that he and the prince "share a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

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