saudis will not allow shortages in oil market

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    WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on
    Thursday it would not allow oil shortages that would harm world
    economic growth, despite its support for production cuts
    through OPEC, publicly criticized by the Bush administration.
    "Saudi Arabia's policy is consistent. Number one: we will
    not allow any shortages in the market," Saudi Prince Bandar bin
    Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told
    reporters in a surprise appearance outside the White House.
    Prince Bandar said he had just come from a meeting with
    U.S. President George W. Bush, where he passed along a message
    from Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah.
    Saudi Arabia, OPEC's most influential member, was seen as
    leading a cartel move to cut production by about 4 percent.
    The Bush administration criticized the action, after asking
    OPEC to delay production cuts because of record-high U.S.
    retail gasoline prices, which are making consumers howl.
    "I have just passed a message from Crown Prince Abdullah to
    the president regarding the energy situation," Prince Bandar
    said. "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
    Prince Bandar, who noted the oil markets have been behaving
    "in an unusual way," said Abdullah and Bush agreed to stay in
    The statement may lend some political help to Bush, who, in
    an election year, is facing criticism from Democrats that he is
    doing too little to stem rising gasoline prices.
    Americans are paying record prices of about $1.76 per
    gallon, on average, to fill their gasoline tanks. The price
    jumps have come just ahead of the summer driving season, when
    U.S. gasoline consumption hits its peak.
    Democrats have seized on Bush's 2000 campaign pledge that
    if elected president, he would "jawbone" OPEC members by
    calling them and saying "we expect you to open your spigots."
    Bandar said Saudi Arabia remained committed to OPEC's
    official pricing calling for oil prices to hover between $22
    and $28 per barrel.
    "My government's target is $25 as an average," he said.
    Rising oil prices are threatening to revive tensions
    between the United States and Saudi Arabia, even as the desert
    kingdom is cooperating more with the war on terrorism.
    Some Democrats, seeking to unseat Bush in November, intend
    to target the relationship between Riyadh and the former Texas
    oilman, who said during the 2000 election that a president must
    "jawbone" OPEC nations by getting "on the phone with the OPEC
    cartel and say we expect you to open your spigots."
    ((Reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Patricia Zengerle;
    Reuters Messaging: [email protected]; e-mail:
    [email protected]; tel: 202-898-8392))
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