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2005-04-26

Bush Meets Longtime Saudi Ally in Crawford

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President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for the first time in three years at his ranch in Crawford, Texas on Monday. The price of oil was the main topic of the talks. We speak with Middle East expert, professor As’ad AbuKhalil. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Monday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The two leaders discussed soaring global oil prices as well as political reform in Saudi Arabia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the so-called "war on terror."

But it was the price of oil that topped the agenda. Crude oil prices hit record highs in April, briefly topping $58 dollars a barrel. Nationwide retail gas prices have climbed to over $2.28 (two dollars twenty eight cents) a gallon.

Prior to Abdullah’s arrival, Bush spoke to reporters at his ranch about oil and the energy bill.

  • President Bush, speaking in Crawford, Texas, April 25, 2005.

Crown Prince Abdullah arrived soon after with a small entourage. Bush greeted him with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. The president then took Abdullah’s hand in his and guided him up the path leading to his office, taking care to a point a field of bluebonnets on the way.

The meeting between the two leaders was the first in three years. Abdullah arrived in the United States on Sunday where he met with Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Saudis presented a plan to increase oil production over the next decade in what the Wall Street Journal describes as a "recap of plans the Saudis already had announced."

Meanwhile, in a letter to President Bush, Human Rights Watch called for charges against three Saudi dissidents to be dropped. The three were imprisoned for more than a year for petitioning for a constitutional monarchy. In the letter, the group also said Bush should urge Saudi authorities to appoint women to the recently-formed municipal councils, and to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

  • As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. He is the author of several books, his latest is "The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power." He runs a blog called "The Angry Arab News Service."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Prior to Abdullah’s arrival, Bush spoke to reporters at his ranch about oil and the Energy Bill.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Of course, I’m talking about energy and the Crown Prince understands that it’s very important for there to be a — make sure that the price is reasonable. High oil price will damage markets. He knows that. I look forward to talking to him about that, but as well as, you know, we’ll talk about his country’s capacity. That’s an important subject. One thing is for certain, I need to sign an Energy Bill, and I appreciate the House passing the Energy Bill. Now it’s time for the Senate to pass the Energy Bill. The Bill is a long time in coming. The Vice President and I suggested they pass this — a bill in 2001. Nothing happened. Now is the time for something to happen. Looking forward to getting back to Washington to talk about energy.

REPORTER: Sir, do you think gas prices can be any lower than it is today?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: That depends on the supply and demand. One thing is for certain, the price of crude is driving the price of gasoline. The price of crude is up, because not only is our economy growing, but economies such as India and China’s economies are growing.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking to reporters at his ranch in Crawford on Monday, standing next to Vice President Dick Cheney. Crown Prince Abdullah arrived soon after with a small entourage. Bush greeted him with a hug and kiss on both cheeks. The President then took Abdullah’s hand in his and guided him up the path leading to his office, taking care to point to a field of bluebonnets on the way. The meeting between the two leaders was the first in three years. Abdullah arrived in the United States on Sunday, where he met with Vice President Dick Cheney. The Saudis presented a plan to increase oil production over the next decade, and what the Wall Street Journal describes as a, (quote), "recap of plans the Saudis already had announced." Meanwhile, in letter to President Bush, Human Rights Watch called for charges against three Saudi dissidents to be dropped. The three were imprisoned for more than a year, for petitioning for a constitutional monarchy. In the letter, the group also said Bush should urge Saudi authorities to appoint women to the recently formed municipal councils and to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Joining us on the line from California is As’ad AbuKhalil. He is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a visiting professor at UC Berkeley. He is the author of several books, his latest is The Battle For Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism and Global Power. He runs a blog called, "The Angry Arab News Service" at AngryArab.Blogspot.com. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome. Talk about the significance of yesterday’s meeting?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I mean, I thought yesterday that even the image was beyond the significance of the two walking holding hands. I mean, this sends a message throughout the Middle East, and it speaks far louder than the hefty, exorbitant expenditure on propaganda since September 11. It seems the obsession with crude oil prices overwhelmed any other talk about the Arab-Israeli question, about the so-called spread of freedom in the Middle East and more importantly even the so-called war on terrorism and the House of Saud production of fanatical Muslims throughout the world. It was very obvious that all of the vapid speeches that Bush has been making about democracy and reform in the Middle East all are pushed aside in order for those two to get together and for the President to emphasize about what he called one time the permanent friendship between the two governments. Here is somebody, the President of the United States, who made himself totally bogusly a symbol of somebody championing reform and democracy in the Middle East, holding hands, literally in this case, with the head of religious dictatorship, one of the worst violators of human rights throughout the world. I’m sure the agenda which talked about how the Saudis can invest some $50 billion more in order to produce and satisfy Americans’ demand for oil, all of that dwarfed or, in fact, excluded concerns about the recent, very recent human rights violation inside the kingdom. Only days ago, 40 Pakistani Christians were arrested because they dared to hold a religious ceremony in one of their houses. The Saudi professor who was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail because he dared to give an interview to Al Jazeera TV. Just yesterday, all of the Arabic media, but the not the American media, reported about some senior member of the Saudi Counterterrorism Unit was arrested by the government because he dared to criticize it on Al Jazeera TV. And on and on and on. I mean, Arabs always knew all along that this is no serious championing of human rights and democracy, that Bush’s idea of freedom clashes in fact with real freedom in the Middle East, that this was all propaganda intended to fool the American public, and I think unfortunately, it has worked.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor As’ad AbuKhalil, who is a Professor at California State University. Agence France-Presse is reporting that a member of the Saudi delegation was denied entry into the United States after authorities found he was on a government watchlist. Did you hear about this? A member of Prince Abdullah’s delegation?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I posted it on my website yesterday. I saw that, and I felt it was incredible how it didn’t get any prominent mention in any U.S. newspapers. In fact, I did look in U.S. newspapers, and didn’t find it mentioned whatsoever. It seems there was an attempt to cover it up, but perhaps this was too embarrassing. He was a man who was greeted in Bush’s personal farm, and he intended to bring with him somebody who was on an American terrorism watchlist. I mean, that’s — that says something, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the Human Rights Watch Organization call for these dissidents to be released from jail, saying that President Bush should demand this, naming these men who signed a petition for a — what were they calling for, I believe their names were Matrouk al-Falih, Ali al-Deminy, and Abdullah al-Hamid?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, I mean, just as scores of other Saudis have been jailed over the years, they dared to question the ability of the Royal Family to hold severe monopoly over the reins of power. They wanted to establish some formal constitutional arrangement so that people will have some powers. And let us not be fooled about the recent attempt to fool the world and, of course, it didn’t fool any Saudi, with the so-called municipal elections in the country. Even with those, you know, the Fundamentalists seem to be winning with the participation and support of the Royal Family itself. These were so-called municipal elections where some of the 50% of the population who are males were allowed to vote in elections for 50% of the seats of really powerless municipal councils throughout the kingdom. This is like the so-called Consultation Council, which the King appoints but absolutely adheres to none of its decisions. And they have no power whatsoever. These are just formalistic changes that they make in order to fool the outside world. I don’t think the repeals are fooled. Human rights organizations are not fooled, but I guess the American public which does not keep a close tab on what’s going on around the world, whenever they hear about Bush that he is helping in the spread of freedom, many of them, I think, judging by the results of the last election, apparently they are convinced, but in the Arab world, nobody has any doubts about this. They know. I mean, if — I mean, the meeting yesterday couldn’t have taken place if this President is serious in the least about supporting human rights in the region. If anything, regarding human rights organizations, I just wish that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are far more vocal about the abysmal records of human rights inside that Kingdom.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush has not commented on the recent election in Saudi Arabia that was dominated by Islamist groups. Women were not allowed to participate. Your comment.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I mean, again, there’s absolutely no power that is attached to these councils, and of course, 50% of the population are not allowed, and 50% of the seats are appointed by the Royal Family itself. So, I mean, the Royal Family just want to make sure just in case that there are some dissident voices that may infiltrate through, but they’re doing all of their best to prevent that from happening. I mean, this is not serious reform that nobody can be, you know, take with any respect. This is the record of the Royal Family for the last more than 60 years. That’s what they do, and whenever they’re pressured, they make some cosmetic changes that are absolutely meaningless. This is only one of them. I mean the President, in fact, in the Joint Communique, showered some praises on the Royal Family for the so-called recent events and the elections, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor AbuKhalil, if you could briefly comment on the final Syrian pullout from Lebanon?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, I’m so glad that you asked me about that, because I was really unhappy with the giddy and very silly way that the President and his cronies reacted to events in Lebanon. Just last week, Zogby International conducted a comprehensive survey of the Lebanese people. And it turned out there is one country in Lebanon that is more unpopular than Syria, and that is the United States. And we also have to say that it seems there are good and bad demonstrations as far as the United States is concerned, when Bush was praising some demonstrators against Syria, apparently according to the Lebanese press, the U.S. government has officially pressured the Lebanese government, because for the last week, and this is something that the Washington Post and The New York Times have not covered once, thousands of Lebanese students have been flocking to the U.S. Embassy to protest the interference by the United States in the Lebanese affairs, and the U.S. Embassy apparently is very unhappy about that. And these are peaceful demonstrations, I should say. And now they want them to stop, so the Lebanese government is now pressured to do so. I think that the withdrawal of Syria perhaps is going to allow the Lebanese to again manifest their very deep divisions and conflicts, and this time, they will not have Syria to blame. They will only have to face this themselves, but this is Lebanon. It’s never going to be independent. Syrian domination is now being replaced by a collection of outside dominators led be the United States, Saudi Arabia and France.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor As’ad AbuKhalil, we want to thank you for being with us.

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