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Inside Politics

White House: Bush 'disappointed' in OPEC

Gas prices hot issue on campaign trail

From Dana Bash and Jennifer Yuille
CNN Washington Bureau

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Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is "disappointed" that OPEC decided to stick with its plan to tighten oil supplies, the White House said Wednesday.

The afternoon statement followed an earlier comment that appeared to carefully avoid direct criticism of OPEC -- Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries -- after it stood by a planned April reduction in crude oil production amounting to 1 million barrels a day.

"The president is disappointed in today's decision," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "Producers should not take steps that harm American consumers and our economy."

Earlier McClellan sidestepped talking about Wednesday's decision by saying, "I don't know that we get into commenting directly on their rulings."

The Bush White House has chosen what it calls quiet diplomacy to try to sway OPEC to increase production. (CNN Money: OPEC agrees to cut oil outputexternal link)

Gasoline prices have become a hot issue on the campaign trail, with Sen. John Kerry blaming the White House and its close relationship to oil companies for contributing to the high prices at the pump. (Full story)

Kerry released a statement Wednesday night saying that because of the president's "arrogant foreign policy, the United States has lost credibility in the world."

"Diplomacy is not a word in George Bush's vocabulary, and as a result, the American people are paying high prices at the pump," Kerry said.

The Bush campaign released a television ad Tuesday hitting Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, for having supported a 50-cent gas tax hike.

At the afternoon briefing McClellan also acknowledged that administration officials are in active discussions with both OPEC and non-OPEC producers to address concerns about the high prices.

"[Energy] Secretary [Spencer] Abraham, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell, the White House -- we are in constant discussions with producers from around the world," McClellan said. "[National security adviser] Condi Rice has certainly been in touch with individuals in OPEC, and we will continue working for America's consumers to make our views known to our friends in OPEC, as well as other producers around the world"

Rice met Wednesday afternoon with the foreign minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Sabah. Afterward, Al-Sabah told reporters that a rising oil price is not something the Kuwaiti government would "like to see." He also reaffirmed Kuwait's position that OPEC should have delayed the restrictions to allow time for oil prices to drop.

The Bush administration pledged to make sure that no "price gouging" occurs. "We'll continue to work with state and local officials and consumers to look at possible regional spikes in gas prices," McClellan said.

The White House pledged Wednesday that "the president will remain firmly opposed to raising gas taxes." Instead, the White House continues to press Congress to pass an energy reform bill, stalled in Congress for some three years.

"We continue to go from crisis to crisis, whether it is electricity or whether it is gas prices. We need comprehensive solutions, not patchwork crisis management," McClellan said. "We wouldn't be in this situation today if Senate Democrats weren't holding up the national energy plan that the president proposed back in May of 2001."

Democrats, however, say the Bush plan doesn't do enough to promote alternative sources of energy, nor force manufacturers to improve their fuel efficiency. Some Democrats have also faulted the administration for pursuing some oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They say more emphasis should be placed on reducing consumption.

The White House again rejected calls to tap into the nation's emergency stockpile of oil, called the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve. "You have to keep in mind that there are national security concerns involved when you are talking about that issue, particularly after September 11," McClellan said.

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