CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- President Bush is opening his ranch to Saudi Arabia's ambassador, hoping to thaw relations chilled by the Sept. 11 attacks and questions about the kingdom's commitment to defeating terrorists.
Bush was to meet Tuesday with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and top items on the agenda included the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those discussions likely will turn to Iraq, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Just hours before the meeting, a Saudi official said the kingdom opposes military action against Iraq.
"There is a diplomatic process that is going on and we should pursue that," Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign policy adviser, said on CNN. "We don't believe that the case has been made in terms of a war against Iraq and we don't think that people have thought through all the consequences."
Fleischer tried to minimize recent disagreements.
"Relations are strong," he said.
Other officials brushed aside repeated suggestions, almost all from outside government circles, that Saudi Arabia has been complicit with Islamic militants.
Meanwhile, the official Saudi Press Agency reported that Bush telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah to reassure him that relations between the two countries remain strong and talk of their deterioration is "irresponsible."
Recent tensions between both nations had been sparked by "irresponsible statements reflecting the points of view only of those who made them," Bush reportedly told the crown prince.
The ranch invitation is a conciliatory gesture that follows a series of flare-ups in U.S.-Saudi relations, including a recommendation from a private defense analyst to a Pentagon advisory board that the Arab ally be given an ultimatum to stop supporting terrorism or face retaliation.
Earlier this month, 700 relatives of Sept. 11 victims filed suit against the Saudi and Sudanese governments and some institutions claiming that they helped finance Osama bin Laden's network and the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit was filed a week after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the United States would not have access to Saudi facilities for an attack on Iraq. He also affirmed the kingdom's opposition to an incursion.
Visits by foreign leaders to Crawford are considered diplomatic plums. Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited there and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is due in late October. Prince Bandar has a personal relationship with the Bush family.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.