Kerry questions Bush over `secret deal' on oil prices with Saudis

Campaigning in Florida, Democrat uses new book to fuel hardship argument

Election 2004

April 20, 2004|By Matea Gold and Nick Anderson | Matea Gold and Nick Anderson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Seizing on a claim that the Saudi government told the White House it would try to lower oil prices as the November election approaches, Sen. John Kerry questioned yesterday whether President Bush had put politics ahead of America's economic needs.

Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, cited an assertion in a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward that U.S. Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan told Bush that his country hoped to decrease oil prices to help the U.S. economy before Election Day.

"That's the Saudi pledge," Woodward said Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes.

"If, as Bob Woodward reports, it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable," Kerry told hundreds of supporters gathered on the campus of Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth.

Bush's re-election campaign denied there was any such deal.

"It seems Senator Kerry is more interested in trying to do book reviews about books he's hasn't written and probably not read than he is in getting the facts," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt. "The fact is, there were no secret deals, and his charges and attacks were completely inaccurate."

The Saudi Embassy did not return calls for comment. But Bandar, in a call to CNN last evening, denied that his comments to Bush about oil prices represented any sort of deal. Bandar said he was reiterating his government's long-standing policy of maintaining stable oil prices to prevent worldwide economic problems.

Kerry used Woodward's book, Plan of Attack, to fuel an argument he has been making on the campaign trail: that Bush's energy policies have created hardships for average Americans.

"Right now, there are people all over this country who are literally going through their purses and their pocketbooks, looking behind the sofa and under the cushion and under the car, to find the pennies to get the extra money to be able to pay the additional cost of gasoline," Kerry said.

"It's my prayer that Americans are not being held hostage to a secret deal between the White House and a Saudi prince," he said.

Kerry also accused Saudi Arabia of allowing money to flow to terrorist groups, an allegation Saudi leaders have denied.

"We need to end this sweetheart relationship with a bunch of Arab countries that still allow money to move to Hamas and Hezbollah and the Al Aqsa Brigade," he told donors at a breakfast reception at a home in Juno Beach, which raised $250,000 for his campaign.

He did not name the Arab countries, but a campaign spokesman said Kerry was referring primarily to Saudi Arabia.

Kerry was joined at the fund-raiser and the rally at Palm Beach Community College by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a rival earlier this year in the Democratic presidential race and the party's 2000 vice presidential candidate.

The two repeatedly invoked that year's contested presidential race, which the Democrats lost amid controversy about voting irregularities in Florida. In Palm Beach County, where some voters were baffled by "butterfly ballots," both promised there would be no repeat of the 2000 problems.

"This time, we're not chasing butterflies," Lieberman said at the rally. "We're going to elect the next Democratic president of the United States, and it's going to start right here in Palm Beach County, where it ended."

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