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President George W Bush complained on Tuesday about soaring oil prices and the threat posed to the US economy during the second day of his visit to Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.
Bush said he would raise his concerns face to face with his Saudi host, King Abdullah, when the leaders decamp to the monarch's weekend desert getaway, injecting a message that could put a chill on the night's festivities.
"I ... will again talk to His Majesty tonight about the fact that oil prices are very high, which is tough on our economy," Bush told a roundtable meeting with Saudi entrepreneurs.
Bush's overnight stay at Abdullah's Al Janadriyah "horse farm" near Riyadh on Tuesday had been envisioned as a chance to set aside talk of Middle East peace, Iranian challenges and controversial arms deals that dominated the first day of his visit.
But Bush made clear he wanted to talk about a subject that has emerged increasingly as an irritant in otherwise close relations between Washington and the Islamic kingdom, which is the de facto head of OPEC.
"I would hope, as OPEC considers different production levels, that they understand that if... one of their biggest consumers' economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less oil and gas sold," Bush said.
When Bush walked arm-in-arm with Abdullah at his Texas ranch nearly three years ago, oil cost $54 a barrel, a level the Saudi government acknowledged then was "clearly too high."
Oil is now hovering near $100 a barrel and many Americans are griping about their tax dollars helping to underwrite the defence of wealthy Gulf allies.
Bush, whose country is the world's largest energy consumer, may well want to quiz the Saudis on how they can tame oil prices that are an added blow to a US economy that some economists say is tilting toward recession.
HOW THE ROYALS LIVE
In his visit to Abdullah's retreat, Bush will get a taste of how the royals live in the world's richest oil-producing monarchy.
He will trade in his business suit for more casual attire and stay the night at the sprawling tent-like structure with walls made of silk.
Even the Arabian stallions the king raises at his Al Janadriyah "horse farm" near Riyadh lead lives of luxury. They are kept in climate-controlled, air-conditioned stables and are treated to aqua-therapy.
The special hospitality is for a US president who hosted Abdullah as crown prince in Crawford, Texas, in 2002 and 2005.
Bush, spending the rest of Tuesday sightseeing and visiting with US embassy staff, has already given his royal host good reason to be pleased.
Trying to counter Iran's growing military clout in the region, Bush made clear on Monday his commitment to go ahead with a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
Just hours after his arrival in Riyadh, the US administration said it notified Congress of its intention to offer the Saudis a package of 900 precision-guided bomb kits worth about $120 million (Dh440m). (REUTERS)
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