Congressional Democrats called for an investigation Monday into a report that President Bush and the Saudi government made a secret deal to reduce oil prices in the run-up to the election in November. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who authored the new book Plan of Attack, revealed the deal in an interview with 60 Minutes.
In a letter to Bush, Congressman Henry Waxman and Ed Markey wrote, “Our nation’s economy is too important to suffer from high gasoline prices to suit the political timing of any Presidential campaign.”
The White House has not outright denied the report. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited the White House on April 1 and pledged to protect the world economy from oil shocks.
In an interview on CNN last night Prince Bandar denied a secret deal was reached and said President Clinton made a similar request on gas prices in 2000 as did President Carter in 1979.
The Associated Press reports Senator John Kerry criticized the alleged Bush-Saudi deal during a campaign stop in Florida where he reached out for the Jewish vote. He said, “I have a 100 percent record … of supporting the special relationship and friendship that we have with Israel. I can guarantee you that as president, I understand not just how we do that but also how we end this sweetheart relationship with a bunch of Arab countries that still allows money to move to Hamas, Hezballah and the Al Aqsa Brigade.”
In other news connecting the House of Bush and the House of Saud, Woodward reveals Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shared top secret war plans about the attack on Iraq with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan on Jan. 11, 2003. The documents included a map that was marked TOP SECRET NOFORM, meaning it was classified material that could not be disclosed to any non-US official.
In other news from the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan has cancelled plans to meet President Bush in Washington later this week to protest Bush’s backing of Israel’s unilateral decision to keep settlements in the West Bank.
Meanwhile members of the Israeli cabinet are now saying they will begin trying to assassinate leaders of Hamas who live outside Israel and the occupied territories. Hamas’s main leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Syrian capital, Damascus, is a top target.
And British Prime Minister Tony Blair has become the latest international leader to condemn Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. Blair told Parliament Monday, “We condemn the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi just as we condemn all terrorism, including that perpetrated by Hamas.”
In Iraq news, Spain has already begun pulling out its troops from Iraq. The White House announced Monday that President Bush called the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to express his regret over Spain’s decision to pull out. According to the White House, Bush urged Spain to avoid giving false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq.” Also on Monday Honduras announced that it would follow Spain’s suit and pull its 370 troops out of Iraq.
In other news from Iraq US troops on Monday shot and killed a journalist and his driver who were working for the US-funded television station Al-Iraqiya.
President Bush announced Monday his plans to nominate John Negroponte to serve as US ambassador to Iraq after June 30. Negroponte is currently the US Ambassador to the United Nations. He has long been accused of abetting and covering up human rights crimes while he was ambassador to Hondoras from 1981 to 1985. The Baltimore Sun reported that during Negroponte’s term, “hundreds of [Honduras’] citizens were kidnapped, tortured and killed in the 1980s by a secret army unit trained and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency.” In addition, Hondoras became the US staging ground for Washington’s covert war against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Negroponte was one of the people tasked to make sure that the massive U.S. support for the contras remained secret since it violated a Congressional ban on aid to the Contras. The Washington Post reports Democratic congressional staffers say the Democrats won’t focus on Negroponte’s controversial past. The staffer said “The Honduras issue is ancient history.” Negroponte’s diplomatic career began amidst the Vietnam War. he served as political officer in Saigon between 1964 and 1968 and advised Henry Kissinger during the Paris peace talks in the early 1970s. If he is appointed, Negroponte will head the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in history.
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that determined the Republican-led Texan legislature did not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when it redrew the state’s congressional districts to help the GOP pick up six or seven new House seats in the upcoming elections.
President Bush Monday called on Congress to make all provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and he dismissed criticism of the law from civil liberterians. Bush said “The Patriot Act defends our liberty. The Patriot Act makes it able for those of us in positions of responsibility to defend the liberty of the American people. It’s essential law.”
In Israel the nuclear technician who revealed the existence of the country’s nuclear program Mordechai Vanunu is set for release Wednesday after 18 years in jail. Two decades ago he provided the Sunday Times of London detailed information that outlined Israel’s nuclear program. He was then kidnapped by Mossad agents in Rome and jailed in Israel for treason and for releasing state secrets. Once he is released he still won’t be a truly free man. Israel has claimed that he remains a threat to national security. He will be barred from leaving Israel for at least a year, from going near airports or sea ports and from talking to foreigners without permission from the government. He is also not allowed to reveal any classified information even information that he had previously given to the press.