Bush in Saudi Arabia for Nuclear Deal
By Scott Stearns
16 May 2008
U.S. President George Bush is in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah marking the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Washington and Riyadh. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the two leaders are expected to reach agreement on civilian nuclear technology.
President Bush and King Abdullah inspected a military honor guard in Riyadh before private talks at the king's horse farm outside the capital.
They will discuss a deal to help the kingdom develop civilian nuclear power for medical and industrial uses as well as generating electricity. The agreement provides access to safe, reliable fuel sources for nuclear reactors and demonstrates what the Bush Administration calls Saudi leadership as a non-proliferation model for the region.
The agreement expands cooperation to better safeguard the kingdom's vast oil reserves and its pipeline distribution system, as well as borders.
As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia joins a global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism to enhance the protection of nuclear systems and improve its ability to detect and confiscate illegally held nuclear material.
The kingdom also joins an international alliance to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, including delivery systems.
President Bush says he will ask King Abdullah to boost Saudi oil production to drive down record energy prices. A similar request in January was denied as Saudi output has held steady at just over 8.5 million barrels a day.
Relations between Washington and Riyadh are strained by the war in Iraq. Unlike the first Gulf War when Saudi Arabia boosted oil production and helped pay for the liberation of Kuwait, the kingdom opposed America's 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
U.S. National Security Advisor Steve Hadley says it remains a partnership of common interests.
"So I think the relationship is in pretty good shape. That's not to say that there weren't stresses - obviously the Iraq war was a stress, and managing the situation, subsequent. There are still issues, I'm sure, the Saudis raise with us. We have issues that we raise with them," said Hadley. "We would like to see them offering greater diplomatic support for Iraq, embracing Iraq as a part of the Arab family. They have not gone as far as we would like on that score."
Relations also soured following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
John Alterman directs the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy research group in Washington.
"This relationship has been unalterably changed partly by the events of September 11, partly by what's happened in Iraq, partly by a Saudi sense that the United States isn't nearly as competent as they thought," said Alterman. "And while there is no alternative to the United States, there is suddenly a need to hedge against U.S. incompetence. That changes the whole way these meetings go, and it changes what happens when the U.S. president says I really need you to do this."
President Bush leaves Saudi Arabia Saturday for Egypt and separate talks with President Hosni Mubarak as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Jordanian King Abdullah, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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