The Abdullah Plan ...: The Prince and the President: Positive Indicators Are Emerging That Some of the Proposals for Peace, Put Forward by Crown Prince Abdullah, Have Found Favour with US President Bush. Milan Vesely Was in Crawford, Texas When the Two Statesmen Met. (Current Affairs)(Cover Story)
Vesely, Milan, The Middle East
The visit was short. Five hours, some believed, was barely long enough to get through the introductions, but then Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah hadn't travelled to President George Bush's western White House in Crawford, Texas, to sample the 20oz barbecued steaks. He had the Palestinian/Israeli conflict on his mind.
"Certainly long enough for Prince Abdullah to impress upon President Bush that he is out of step with the Arab world on the Middle East conflict, on Iraq, and on his one-sided support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Saudi delegates growled, in a surprising show of diplomatic steel. And, as if to emphasise how strongly Saudi feelings were running, they added; "The brevity of Crown Prince Abdullah's stay signals that the United States can no longer count on the kingdom's goodwill, nor on it as a source of cheap oil."
President Bush's decision to back Ariel Sharon in his occupation of Palestinian territory has proved contentious. "The war on terrorism has priority. If suicide bombings succeed in Jerusalem, how long will it be before they happen on Main Street USA?" White House insiders insisted. But in Saudi Arabia, where the distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter is more clear-cut, Bush's decision raised a furore. America's `honest broker' status was suddenly in doubt.
"America's national interest is no longer our national interest; now we do not have joint national interests," a close adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah leaked to the press two days before the much anticipated visit. And an even greater threat was implied, on condition of anonymity.
"It is a mistake for the US administration to think that we will not do whatever is necessary to help the Palestinians. There is real anger building in the Arab street and if that means we move to the right of Bin Laden, so be it; to the left of Gadaffi, so be it; or fly to Baghdad and embrace Saddam like a brother, so be it. It's damn lonely in our part of the world, and we can no longer defend our relationship with the United States to our people," he concluded.
Crown Prince Abdullah's 25 April visit to the western White House in Texas was fraught with drama. Everybody was asking the question: Will he come, or will he cancel?" And leaks by Saudi insiders of how bitter Crown Prince Abdullah was over President Bush's tepid assertion that he was taking a balanced approach to the Middle East conflict did little to ease matters.
President Bush lacks the easy demeanour of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, when dealing with foreigners. He is considered more righteous and more formal with people with whom he is not close. "This meeting is going to be difficult," normally tight-lipped White House officials admitted with surprising candour.
Leading up to the visit, the Bush administration received word that Abdullah considered Bush's policies biased and one-sided. He's in no mood to be fobbed off, State Department officials were told bluntly. This caused concern in a White House that believes President Bush's handling of the Middle East crisis is fair and balanced. "The region has been a mess for 50 years," administration staff insisted, "and you can't lay all the blame on him."
Formally dressed in a dark blue suit, with silver belt buckle and cowboy boots, President George W Bush was obviously ill at ease on the ranch house steps. Crown Prince Abdullah's five vehicle motorcade was 10 minutes late. Tense and edgy, he shuffled his feet, talked to vice-president Cheney, and whispered to national security advisor Condaleeza Rice. Rumours had circulated that the `oil weapon' might be used against the United States. This would be bad news for the US at any time but particularly so with the loss of Saddam Hussein's two million barrels of crude. The stakes were being raised even before the meeting had begun.
Saudi officials dismissed the `oil weapon' threat on arrival. …