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President Bush in Saudi Land: Questions to Ask While Holding King Abdullah's Hand

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President Bush will be visiting Saudi Arabia in the next days and meeting with King Abdullah. It will the first opportunity for both men since walking hand in hand at the President's Crawford, Texas, ranch back in April 2005. Before and since little has changed. This administration, under President Bush has persisted on showing fawning obsequiousness toward Saudi officialdom. This, in stark contrast to the American public who view that relationship very differently. Therefore, hereby, a list of questions, some pragmatic, some visceral, that the president might ask while strolling with King Abdullah. Perhaps they will signal to His Majesty that the administration's "heads you win, tails we lose" coin toss game with the Saudis has run its course:

- Early in 2007 with the price of oil hovering about $50/bbl, you as the putative leader of OPEC, organized a production cut of 1.7 million barrels a day from OPEC's production quotas. Since then the price of oil has escalated by 100% touching $100/bbl just last week. Such an increase in price is unprecedented and is beginning to wreck havoc on world economies, especially the poorer nations. Obviously the 500,000 barrels production a day that were reinstated in November are a far cry from what is needed. Why, in spite of this dramatic price escalation have you not at the very least reinstated the full 1.7 million barrels of production?

- In late September of 2006 your oil Minister Ali al-Naimi advised the world at large, with prices near $60/bbl, that "the oil industry is convinced that the price of oil is reasonable". This after his comments in 2004 "the market desires a $35/bbl because it is frightened of [the price rising] to $50," going on to say the Saudis too were "frightened" of that price because it might damage the world economy. Now with oil prices touching $100 barrel, how do you reconcile his statements to actual realities?

- Your Highness, you will remember back the last time we strolled along holding hands at the ranch in Crawford. At that time you agreed to increasing your production capacity to 12.5 million barrels a day by 2009 thereby bringing the world's economies and oil production into closer equilibrium You graciously advised that you would commit $50 billion toward achieving that goal. It was a gesture I found especially moving . Though $50 billion isn't quite what it used to be at today's oil prices, could you tell me how far along you are on this important project?

- Your Highness, back in the '70s your national oil company, Saudi Aramco, fashioned a comprehensive plan calling for Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production capacity to 20 million barrels a day by the 1990's. Do you still have a copy of this study?

- Your Highness, my people at our Energy Department and my good friend Matt Simmons are somewhat confused. They tell me they know so little about your true production capabilities. That you have let it be known that Saudi Arabia holds 260 billion barrels of crude oil reserves. Then in March of last year the head of reservoir management at Saudi Aramco, estimated the kingdom's reserves were almost three times greater, being closer to 716 billion barrels and possibly as great as a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) barrels. You see, we feel strongly that the lack of transparency in oil markets and the poor quality of information available generally, and especially from you as the most important producer in the world, contribute enormously to volatility and uncertainties. Therefore we would be especially grateful were you to lift the veil of secrecy and share data on your output and reserves setting an example for oil producers everywhere. Could we count on your cooperation in this matter as it is a key to our economic planning and that of so many others?

- Saudi Arabia has accumulated enormous wealth through the sale of oil especially so at current prices. A portion of that wealth is funding the Saudi Sovereign Investment Fund with some $900 billion, with much more to come in the years ahead. These funds are so huge and their aims and objectives so opaque that they are creating great concern in financial communities both in my country and around the world. Operational secrecy seems to be their order of the day. My SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has speculated that government investment funds could use the "vast amount of covert information" their intelligence services collect, making them "the ultimate insider trading tool." Given that insider trading is anathema to free markets, given the size and importance of your Sovereign Fund, would you be prepared to allay our and the financial community's concerns and set an example to other Sovereign Funds by opening your Fund's activities to candid public disclosure?

- Your Highness, just the other day three of our naval vessels were confronted in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian armed speedboats. Our sailors were clearly in harm's way, and thankfully no casualties were suffered by our men and women. These ships were part of a larger naval force protecting the Strait of Hormuz and extending into the Arabian/Persian Gulf protecting you coastline as well. One could almost say they serve as guarantors of your independence -- no telling what the Iranians would do if we sailed away. This naval force is there to our mutual interest. We both want the oil to flow through the shipping lanes, but in that you are the ones profiting and we are the ones paying for the oil, don't you think you also should share in the upkeep of the task force? After all helping to protect your coast and the shipping lanes that ply your oil, is costing our treasury alone, some $100 million a day, or near $35 billion/year. Don't you agree, Your Highness, it would only be fair to share this burden with our citizenry who are currently footing this bill, while paying over $3.00 per gallon of gasoline?

- While we are placing our soldiers and sailors in harm's way to help guarantee your independence and to provide your oil with unencumbered access to world markets, you continue to dispense billions of your oil revenue either directly or indirectly to fund imams, mosques, cultural centers, Madrassas', both in Saudi Arabia and throughout the world ,preaching sadly venomous hatred of Shiites, Christians, Hindus and Jews. A recent report by the U.S. Commision on International Religious Freedom released in November, highlighted the lack of progress on efforts to halt the exportation of extremist ideology, a root cause for terrorism and political disequilibrium around the world. About the same time, The New York Times reported (as you know, hardly a mouthpiece of my administration), that your subjects are the largest contingent by far of foreign insurgent/suicide bombers in Iraq, and that according to American military officials "Saudi citizens provide the majority of financing for Al Queda in Mesopotania." As King, your Highness, what can you do to bring an end to this grave blemish on your nation?

- While we are on this unhappy note, Your Highness, I understand you recently released 1,500 Al Queda operatives. According to Saudi officialdom these individuals were counseled and seemingly purged of their "takfir" ideology which holds that there are separate rules that allows believers to kill, to lie to and steal from nonbelievers. As a condition of their release they were required to sign a statement promising only to refrain from jihad within the Arabian Peninsular. Please excuse my bluntness, Your Highness, a question I am reluctant to ask but my staff has been so insistent- does this mean they have higher authority to attack within our cities and fly planes into our buildings?

- And, oh yes Your Highness, another thing. Last March you issued a declaration that the American presence in Iraq is an "illegal foreign occupation." You know I immediately checked with my Dad and he doesn't recall a similar declaration being made before, during or after Gulf War I, when Saddam Hussein had aggressive designs toward Saudi Arabia and where many of our soldiers fought and died to protect the House of Saud. But then he is getting on in years and perhaps his memory is fading. What is your recollection about references to "foreign occupation" then?

- On a final and a fundamentally important note, we as two nations have a long history of cooperation and yet we must begin to deal with the important differences that separate our societies. According to that same report by the U.S. Commision on Religious Freedom that I mentioned previously, grave concern is expressed in the report about Saudi Arabia's violations of religious rights, especially those of Shiite Muslims, non Moslem religious groups and women. These are issues of great concern to my fellow citizens. There is the recent example of the "Qatif Girl" and her 200 lash sentence (commuted by King Abdullah after international uproar) and the 'arrest' of the blogger Fouad al-Farhan. Our views on these issues are so different that it has become critical to both our nations to bridge these differences, if we are to have any chance of building a future together in this precarious world. Should you agree, how then Your Highness, can we best undertake this task?