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Saudis Pledged Oil Price Cut Before U.S. Vote -Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, promised President Bush the Saudis would cut oil prices before November to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day, journalist Bob Woodward said in a television interview on Sunday.

In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" about his new book "Plan of Attack" on the Bush administration's preparations for the Iraq war, Woodward, a senior editor at the Washington Post, said Prince Bandar pledged the Saudi's would try to fine-tune oil prices to prime the U.S. economy for the election -- a move they understood would favor Bush's re-election.

Questioned about his assertion at a time when oil prices are nearing a 13-year high, Woodward responded:

"They're high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. 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."

It was not clear from the interview precisely when Prince Bandar's pledge was allegedly made.

Bush has been under attack from Democrats in recent weeks for failing to halt rising domestic gasoline prices which have hit a record of $1.80 per gallon, according to the U.S. motorists group AAA.

The spike in gasoline prices resulted from a sharp cut in crude oil production this month by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Oil futures in New York closed on Friday at $37.74 a barrel for U.S. light crude.

Prince Bandar has been the Saudi envoy to the United States for 20 years and is part of the Saudi royal family, which has had a close relationship with the Bush family for years.

Earlier this month Bandar reassured Bush that the kingdom would not allow oil shortages to hurt world economic growth after Saudi Arabia led a push by OPEC to cut output by 1 million barrels a day from April.

"Saudi Arabia's policy is consistent. Number one: we will not allow any shortages in the market," Bandar told reporters on April 1 after delivering his message to Bush from Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah.

Rising oil prices have threatened to revive tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia, despite decades of close ties which were severely strained by the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were Saudis.

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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