Saudi oil minister meets Bush Administration officials in low-key meetings

Bush administration officials were tight-lipped Friday about closed-door meetings between Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi and top policymakers, including Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney. White House officials and Saudi officials would not comment on the substance of the discussions.


By Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 25 -- Bush administration officials were tight-lipped Friday about closed-door meetings between Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi and top policymakers, including Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney.

The White House confirmed the 30-min. meeting. It and Saudi officials would not comment on the substance of the discussions.

Cheney has extensive relationships with Saudi officials, given his experience as US Defense Secretary during the Persian Gulf War and his numerous trips to the country as chairman of Halliburton Co.

A key topic of discussion was thought to be the pending announcement by the Kingdom to award several foreign major oil companies multibillion-dollar deals for upstream Saudi gas development projects. Discussions between US companies and Riyadh have taken place since fall 1998. Analysts say ExxonMobil Corp., Conoco, Inc., Chevron Corp., Phillips Petroleum Co., Marathon Ashland LLC, Enron Corp., and Occidental Petroleum Corp. may get contracts.

Analysts say major international oil companies hope that by participating in gas projects now, later they may be able to win contracts for oil field developments, now off limits to foreign investment.

Cheney and al-Naimi also were believed to have discussed rising US gasoline prices and the June 5 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The Bush administration has been quietly urging OPEC to reconsider past decisions to cut production but does not intend to �lobby� the cartel in the manner former Energy Sec. Bill Richardson attempted last year.

Al-Naimi also met with Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham at DOE headquarters. Abraham said they had a �productive and wide-ranging discussion. Saudi Arabia is a strong ally of the US and a very important OPEC country. Our meeting today as the first of what I expect will be many to discuss our areas of mutual interest.�

No details were released regarding their discussions. Al-Naimi spoke in Arabic to reporters before the meeting, commenting that the US was a �top� customer of OPEC whose views are always taken into consideration.

Al-Naimi also was scheduled to meet State Department officials. It was uncertain whether he would meet with Sec. of State Colin Powell.

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