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White House, Saudis: No election deal on oil

Kerry rips report of election-related deal

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The White House and a top Saudi official denied a report of a deal to lower gas prices before the November presidential election.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House and a top Saudi official denied Monday a report of a deal to lower gasoline prices before the November presidential election.

The Bush administration did say it has received assurances from Saudi Arabia that oil prices will stay in the range of $22 to $28 per barrel, but said the recent discussions have nothing to do with presidential politics.

"There was no secret deal," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett told CNN.

And a top Saudi official denied his country is taking any action to affect oil prices for political purposes.

"The allegation that the kingdom is manipulating the price of oil for political purposes or to affect elections is erroneous and has no basis in fact," Saudi Foreign Policy Adviser Adel al-Jubeir said in a statement.

Record-high gasoline prices have become a hot issue in the presidential race.

Journalist Bob Woodward described a pact on oil prices between Bush and Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Woodward discussed the alleged deal during an interview Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" where he talked about his new book on Bush.

The White House initially did not respond directly to the charges of an election deal, saying only that the administration had talked with Saudi officials about oil prices

In a morning briefing with reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Saudi Arabia recently "committed to making sure prices remained in a range of, I believe, $22 to $28" per barrel.

"They don't want to do anything that would harm our consumers or harm our economy," McClellan said.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, at a campaign stop in Florida, said the deal reported by Woodward -- if true -- is "outrageous and unacceptable to the American people."

Woodward, in the interview about his new book, said Bandar, a long-time Bush family friend, pledged that "over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."

McClellan, grilled on the topic during the briefing with reporters Monday, said, "Prices should be determined by market forces, and we are always in close contact with producers around the world on these issues."

Al-Jubeir initially released a statement saying that for 30 years, his country's policy has been "to maintain balance in the oil markets to avoid disruptions or shortages."

He added, "The promise we make to consumers ... is that supply will be adequate, and prices will remain at moderate levels acceptable to both producers and consumers. And that promise is consistent, and independent of who is in power within consuming countries, including the U.S."

Later, al-Jubeir sent out a new version of the statement, adding the sentence directly denying the allegation.

Kerry, who has long attacked Bush for what he calls close ties to big oil and failure to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil, pounced on Woodward's comments during a campaign stop in Florida.

"If, as Bob Woodward reports, it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, then tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people," he told voters in Lake Worth, Florida.

"It is fundamentally wrong," he added. "It's my prayer that Americans are not being held hostage to a secret deal."

Kerry said his plan to lower gasoline prices begins with pressuring Saudi Arabia to increase production, thereby lowering prices to Americans -- and not tying such a move to an election.

He touted his energy policy, saying, "Unlike George Bush and his friends at the big oil companies, I'm going to work for a real energy policy for this country that decreases America's dependence on foreign oil and helps lower the cost to American families."

Current gasoline prices, he said, "aren't Exxon gas prices. ... Those are Halliburton prices. And we deserve a break in this country."

Halliburton is the oil-services company that Vice President Dick Cheney headed before returning to public office, and the Texas-based company has received lucrative contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Bandar said publicly that his country wants to stabilize world oil prices because of the effect a price spike might have on economies around the world, including Saudi Arabia. He did not link the effort to the U.S. election.

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