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Bush urges Saudis to increase oil production

No promises from Riyadh on short-term output


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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- With gas prices soaring at the pump, President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah on Monday to discuss oil output and a host of other issues, but officials said the meeting ended with no promises from Riyadh to increase its short-term oil production, as the White House had hoped.

National Security Adviser Steve Hadley told reporters that Abdullah and his delegation did present a long-term plan to increase production by the end of the decade to 12.5 million barrels per day, up from its current output of 9.5 million barrels a day.

Saudi Arabia also hopes to increase production to 15 million barrels daily in the next decade, he said.

Bush had said prior to the meeting that he would seek to "get a straight answer" from Saudi Arabia about its immediate production capacity.

Senior administration officials, however, would not say whether Bush specifically pressed Abdullah to increase Saudi production in the short term.

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of the conversations the two leaders had," Hadley said.

But Hadley said the president "made that request last week in his public statements very clearly."

Asked if the Saudi long-term plan would have any immediate effect on gas prices, Hadley said it should be "good news for the markets," but the verdict is still out.

"We would hope that and other factors would result in some positive news in terms of the price fronts. But, as you know, these markets are complicated business," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush is trying to put together a "long-term sustainable answer" to the energy problem.

"What he got from the Saudis today was an important step forward that said they also understand that there is a structural problem here that needs to be dealt with," she said. "He very much welcomed the careful planning that they had done, their desire to increase their capacity in a sustainable way and their willingness to make investment to do that."

Bush and Abdullah released a joint written statement at the end of their talks, which included a tour of the Texas ranch, lunch and meetings.

"Both nations pledge to continue their cooperation, so that the oil supply from Saudi Arabia will be available and secure," it said. "The United States appreciates Saudi Arabia's strong commitment to accelerating investment and expanding its production capacity to help provide stability and adequately supply the market."

Heading into the meeting, Bush said Abdullah understands it is "very important ... to make sure the prices are reasonable. A high oil price will damage markets."

"He knows that," Bush said. "I look forward to talking to him about that, as well, as, you know, we'll talk about his country's capacity. It's an important subject."

Bush told the business news channel CNBC last week he would seek "to get a straight answer from the government as to what they think their excess capacity is."

U.S. gasoline prices now average $2.24 a gallon for self-serve regular, according to a nationwide survey published Sunday -- down almost a nickel over the past two weeks after weeks of increases.

Several senior administration officials have acknowledged that prices at the pump could pose a political problem for the president, and a Gallup poll released Sunday showed Americans were equally divided over whether they approved or disapproved of Bush's job performance.

The Energy Department predicts that as the summer driving season nears gas prices will peak in May at an average of $2.35 a gallon.

The series of meetings between U.S. and Saudi officials began Sunday with Vice President Dick Cheney and Abdullah meeting. Rice met Monday morning with Abdullah and the Saudi delegation, which included Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi.

Hadley described the series of meetings as "very intensive and extensive consultations between the two sides," touching on a range of issues, including oil production, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war on terror.

Hadley said Bush and Abdullah had "a very good set of consultations, a very good spirit in the room."

"The relationship between the two men is a very positive, very strong personal relationship which they were able to reaffirm. And also I think the consultations between the two delegations strengthened the relations between the two government down the line," he said.

The joint statement between the two leaders said they "renewed our personal friendship and that between our nations."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.


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