Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt — President Bush said Saudi Arabia's small increase in oil production will not solve soaring U.S. fuel prices, but he defended the wealthy kingdom Saturday against American lawmakers "screaming the loudest" for Riyadh to open its spigots.
Bush also encountered bitter Arab criticism that he favors Israel too heavily and was bluntly questioned by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about whether he is serious about peacemaking. Bush said he was "absolutely committed" to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of his presidency next January. But there was no sign during Bush's five-day Mideast trip that the two sides are moving closer toward an accord.
"It breaks my heart to see the vast potential of the Palestinian people really wasted," Bush said. Pledging the creation of an independent homeland, Bush said "It'll be an opportunity to end the suffering that takes place in the Palestinian territories."
With Israel's occupation of Arab lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war entering its fifth decade, most Palestinians live in dire poverty.
On the last stop of his travels, Bush held a rapid-fire series of diplomatic meetings at this posh Red Sea resort, famous for its brilliantly clear waters and sea-snorkling reefs. After talks with Mubarak, Bush saw Afghan President Hamid Karzai and had dinner with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Today, he will confer with the leaders of Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq. He said every meeting advances prospects for peace.
As oil prices hit another record high on Friday, Saudi King Abdullah rebuffed Bush's request for higher oil production to take the pressure off prices. The high prices are a political nightmare in a presidential election year for Bush and his would-be Republican successor, Sen. John McCain. Bush said he cautioned the king about the repercussions of skyrocketing prices.
"I said very plainly, I said, 'You've got to be concerned about the effects of high oil prices on some of the biggest customers in the world. And not only that, of course, high energy prices (are) going to cause countries like mine to accelerate our move toward alternative energy."
Saudi officials said the kingdom was pumping all the oil that its customers want and that production had been increased by 300,000 barrels a day earlier this month.
"It's something, but it doesn't solve our problem," Bush said. "Our problem in America gets solved when we aggressively go for domestic exploration. Our problem in America gets solved if we expand our refining capacity, promote nuclear energy, and continue our strategy for the advancement of alternative energies, as well as conservation."