No. 1 oil exporter will reportedly increase production before election in effort to help Bush.
April 19, 2004: 7:09 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN) - A top Saudi official has assured President Bush that his country will increase oil production to lower gas prices before November to help the president's re-election prospects, according to a broadcast report Sunday.
Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, discussing his new book on the run-up to the Iraq war on CBS' '60 Minutes,' said Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and a long-time friend of the Bush family, has given the pledge that "certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."
Earlier this month, the Saudi ambassador publicly said his country wants to stabilize world oil prices because of the effect a price spike might have on economies around the world, including Saudi Arabia. He did not link the effort to the U.S. election.
Record-high gas prices have become an issue in the presidential race between Bush and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.
Kerry has criticized Bush for not doing more to bring high prices under control, while the Bush campaign has run ads noting that Kerry once supported a 50-cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, which would have meant even higher prices.
Amid concerns that plans by OPEC to cut oil production could raise prices even further, Prince Bandar went to the White House April 1 to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and to deliver a message to Bush from Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler.
Afterward, he told reporters that Saudi Arabia is committed to heading off any shortages in the world energy market.
"We will not allow shortages in the market because that will hurt the world economy," he said. "Saudi Arabia does not live on the moon. When the world economy gets hurt, we get hurt also."
He also said that the president and the crown prince "have been in touch on this subject for a while now."
"Both leaders feel strongly that higher energy prices have a negative impact on the world economy and on the recovery of the world economy," Prince Bandar said. "We will not allow shortage of the markets of oil in the market to increase the prices."
The ambassador said Saudi Arabia would like to see the price of oil, which now tops $33 a barrel, to be between $22 and $28 a barrel.
OPEC has said it plans to cut production by as much as 1 million barrels per day in April, which would further increase prices. However, Saudi Arabia, as OPEC's most influential member and largest producer, could thwart those plans.
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