Healing A Rift

Actor Ed Westwick arrives at the Hollywood Life 11th Annual Young Hollywood Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. on Sunday, June 7, 2009. The "Gossip Girl" actor won the award for "Male Breakthrough Performance."
AP Photo/Dan Steinberg
President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah tried to breathe new life into Abdullah's Mideast peace initiative, a point of agreement in a relationship tarnished by disputes over terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis itself.

No concrete progress resulted from the five-hour session on Mr. Bush's ranch Thursday, but both camps said that by building a personal relationship, the two leaders had made progress in improving U.S.-Saudi relations and perhaps the Mideast peace process.

"I'm convinced that the stronger our personal bond is, the more likely it is relations between our (countries) will be strong," Mr. Bush said after the two toured his ranch and dined on pecan-encrusted smoked beef tenderloin.

The relationship between the United States and the desert kingdom has seen more conflict than cooperation recently, and the crown prince delivered a stern warning to Mr. Bush that his support for Israel was damaging prospects for Mideast peace and undermining U.S. credibility in the Arab world.

"America is a country that was based on justice and freedom and doing what's right. America should pursue those principles in its foreign policies," the crown prince told Mr. Bush, according to Abdullah's foreign policy adviser, Adel Al-Jubeir.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "is doing great harm to America's credibility in the Arab and Muslim world," he said in a telephone interview.

But the Saudis denied reports that they would threaten to kick the United States out of military bases in Saudi Arabia if the president didn't do more to rein in Sharon. They did reiterate, though, that those bases could not be used to launch U.S. strikes against Iraq, and that military action against Saddam Hussein was not in the world's best interest.

Abdullah urged the president to pressure Israel to free Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from house arrest, and "explained to the president the dangers of the continuing stalemate and the importance of negotiating with the Palestinians," Al-Jubeir said.

"This is the closest ally of the United States from the Arab world, who has communicated to the president that Arab-American relations are on the brink of instability," said Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

Mr. Bush went no further after the meeting than repeating his demand that "all parties" — Israelis, Palestinians and Arab neighbors — have "responsibilities" in pushing for peace.

Nevertheless, Abdullah decided to remain in the United States for a couple more days — a sign that the crown prince did not view the session as fruitless.

But James E. Akins, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said he saw no movement in the stated purpose of the meeting: advancing Mideast peace.

"So far it harms the Mideast process. Absolutely nothing was moved forward," Akins said. "If Abdullah leaves there thinking there's no way of separating Bush from Sharon, things are going to be very bad when he gets back home."

Abdullah gave momentum earlier this year to an initiative meant to quell Mideast violence by offering peace and full recognition to Israel in exchange for the territory Jordan and Syria lost in the 1967 war.

The two leaders discussed how to advance the proposal, which was endorsed by the 22-nation Arab League, aides to both sides said.

Mr. Bush said he was grateful for Abdullah's assurance that Saudi Arabia would not support any effort by angry Arab states to join Iraq's oil embargo.

The Saudi leader "made it clear ... that they will not use oil as a weapon and I appreciate that, respect that and expect that to be the case," Bush said.

CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports that the crown prince also presented new ideas to end the sieges of Ramallah and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

A senior administration official said Mr. Bush raised concerns about anti-Israel terror.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain published a poem praising Palestinian suicide bombers as "martyrs" and the Saudi government sponsored a telethon that collected $100 million to help the bombers' families. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified to the Senate this week that some of that money may have gone to elements of the militant Hamas organization.

U.S. officials at the ranch questioned the Saudi foreign minister in detail Thursday and were assured that telethon proceeds were being funneled only to humanitarian aid groups, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

With Abdullah remaining in the United States, White House officials said they would continue to tend to the relationship. On Friday, Abdullah was taking a train with Mr. Bush's father, the first President Bush, from Houston to College Station, Texas, for lunch.

The president, meanwhile, was returning to domestic politics, mingling privately with the Republican Party's biggest fund-raisers over lunch at the neighboring Broken Spoke Ranch.