Bush chides ’poisonous’ Mideast TV stations

Bush chides ’poisonous’ Mideast TV stations

President Bush today said he needs to do a better job of countering the notion that he dislikes Muslims and America is at war with all Muslims, but blamed what he called “poisonous” state-run TV stations in the Middle East for spreading false information.

Mr. Bush made the comments during a conversation with a group of young people in Jerusalem, and later in the day departed for Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah and other officials about oil prices.

Mr. Bush pressed for increased oil production, but the Saudis insisted that simply pumping more barrels would not solve the problem of rising energy costs, as prices rose to $127 a barrel and the U.S. national average inched closer to $4 a gallon.

Earlier in the day, during his third and final day in Israel, the president sat under an olive tree and spoke with a group of 12 students — Jews, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and one Ethiopian immigrant — outside the Bible Lands Museum, which houses artifacts from the Holy Land.

One young Palestinian Christian woman, Henriette Charcar, challenged Mr. Bush when the president said he does not “dislike Muslims.”

“I think it comes out that you don’t like Muslims because in most of your speeches you do tend to relate extremism to Muslims,” said Miss Charcar, who attends the Tabitha school in Jaffa.

“Actually what I say is you’re not a religious person if you’re a murderer,” Mr. Bush said. “But you’re right. I’ve got to do a better job of making it clear when I talk about Islam I talk about a peaceful religion, which I talk about a lot.”

“But its more than that. There is a propaganda machine on state-owned TV that is poisonous and we just have got to do a better job of reaching out,” the president said.

“One way to do it by the way is to invite people to America and let them see what America is all about.”

The Bush administration has had a prickly relationship with TV stations such as Al Jazeera, the most popular outlet in the Middle East, which is the biggest megaphone used by Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.

Bin laden videotapes often show up for the first time on Arab-run stations such as Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar.

Al Jazeera and other Arab TV stations have also been accused of inciting anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiment.

The U.S. government in 2004 launched their own Middle East TV station, Al Hurrah, in an effort to counter Arab-run TV stations.

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has started an English-language channel in the U.S.

The president and the students also talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Mr. Bush urged them to remain hopeful that peace is possible.

“I know it looks grim at times. But I’m extremely hopeful,” he told them.

But the president made clear what he thinks is the major obstacle to peace, on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary as a state.

“I think why people are fighting is there”s a group of people that refuse to accept a Jewish state,” Mr. Bush said. “There’s a refusal to admit a certain reality.”

After finishing his discussion with the students, the president departed Israel for Saudi Arabia, where he held meetings and ate dinner with King Abdullah at the king’s horse ranch in Al Janadriyah.

But Mr. Bush”s entreaties for increased production were met with Saudi insistence that they are doing “everything they can do” to meet global demand, said National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.

Mr. Hadley said that Saudi officials made a case that was “very illuminating of Saudi thinking and policy.”

The Saudis said they are spending $10 billion over the next five years to increase production capacity by 1 million barrels a day, Mr. Hadley said.

But the Saudis also said that much of their oil needs to be refined, and more refineries need to be built. The U.S., for example, has not built a new refinery since 1976.

The Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, made the case that demand is not outstripping supply, which is a claim made often by the Bush administration.

“Saudi Arabia is willing to put on the market whatever oil is necessary to meet the demands of their customer,” Mr. Hadley said. “What they”re saying is we do not at the present time have customers that are making requests for oil that they are not able to satisfy.”

“What it tells you is that there is something going on in this oil market that is more complicated than just turning on the spigot,” Mr. Hadley said.

Mr. Bush last met with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia in January, and asked him then to boost oil production in order to ease the price of gas in the U.S. But the Saudis refused then as well.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline on Jan. 15 — the date of Mr. Bush’s last visit — was $3.06.

Today that price had risen to $3.79, a new record.

“Almost every day it’s a new record. We’ll be at four dollars soon,” said AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II.

Democratic leaders reacted unhappily to the news of Mr. Bush’s meetings in Saudi Arabia.

“Despite considerable influence, the Bush administration has been ineffective in pressuring Saudi Arabia and, yet again, has failed to effectively use diplomacy to exact short-term relief for American consumers,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Pelosi urged Mr. Bush to sign legislation pausing deposits of oil into the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and promised that Congress will “crack down on OPEC-controlled entities and oil companies for oil price fixing.”

Some Democrats are calling on the Bush administration to freeze or restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia unless they increase oil production.