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Saudis pledge to keep pumping oil

U.S. officials expect little change in relations with kingdom

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia will continue to pump oil "to the best of our capability, with a reasonable price" under its new leader, King Abdullah, a top Saudi diplomat said Monday.

Abdullah, the kingdom's de facto ruler for several years, assumed the throne Monday after the death of his long-ailing half-brother, King Fahd.

Saudi Arabia holds a quarter of the world's known oil supplies, and crude futures set a new record of $61.57 a barrel after news of Fahd's death.

"I would like to reassure you of our government's pledge to continue King Fahd's legacy of providing the world with a stable and secure source of energy," Rihab Massoud, the Saudi charge d'affaires in Washington, told reporters.

U.S. officials said Fahd's death would have little effect on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia because Abdullah already has close ties to Bush and his family. (Abdullah profile)

Saudi Arabia is the biggest player in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the international cartel that sets production levels.

The Saudis have pushed for production increases as oil prices rose sharply in the past two years.

Fahd was the fifth ruler of the nation founded in 1932 by his father, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. His exact age was unknown, but he was believed to be between 82 and 84.

His 23-year reign was marked by unprecedented prosperity, but his close ties with the United States stirred the passions of Islamic militants. (Fahd obit)

Saudi police regularly clash with gunmen linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network, and a spate of attacks in the past two years have targeted Westerners who worked in the oil industry or helped train and equip the kingdom's armed forces.

It was Fahd's decision to allow U.S. forces to be based in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq that outraged Islamic fundamentalists.

Among them is al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who has criticized his homeland for allowing "infidels" to attack another Arab country from its soil.

The United States also used a highly secret base in the kingdom to conduct special operations during the early days of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Fifteen of the 19 suicide hijackers who carried out al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington were from Saudi Arabia.

Massoud acknowledged the "challenge" posed by the attacks in his remarks.

But he said he expected Saudi relations with the United States "to continue and to grow" under Abdullah, who was a guest at President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch earlier this year.

"Saudi Arabia will not stand for an evil cult using the Islamic faith as an excuse for mass violence," Massoud said. "We stand shoulder to shoulder with all nations as strong allies."

In separate statements offering condolences over Fahd's death, Bush also offered his best wishes to Saudi Arabia under Abdullah's reign.

"I have spoken today to the new king, and the United States looks forward to continuing the close partnership between our two countries," Bush said. (Full story)

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