CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush told Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a "menace to world peace" though he gave no indication that the United States would commit to military action to get rid of the dictator.
Bush welcomed Prince Bandar, his wife and seven of their eight children to the president's 1,600-acre ranch Tuesday so the two could have a casual meeting to discuss Iraq, the war against terror, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bush also asked the prince to urge his country to resolve custody cases involving children who have been abducted from the United States and taken to the kingdom. He specifically asked about the return of Monica Stowers and her two daughters to the United States. Stowers, aka Amjad Radwam, was married to a Saudi national. Saudi Arabia rarely grants custody to non-Saudi mothers.
Bandar, dean of the Washington ambassadorial delegation, is a longtime friend of the Bush family and conduit to his Saudi royal relatives, who oppose U.S. military action against Iraq.
"The president made it very clear again that he believes Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the one-hour meeting and lunch.
Just hours before the meeting, a Saudi official re-emphasized that the oil-rich kingdom opposes military action against Iraq.
"There is a process under way with the U.N. to bring the inspectors back [into Iraq], unfettered," said Adel el-Jubier, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto chief executive of the kingdom due to the infirmity of King Fahd.
"We believe it will succeed," el-Jubier said, "and if it does, the objective [of searching for weapons of mass destruction] will be achieved without firing a single bullet or losing a single life."
In Washington, el-Jubier said Saudi Arabia was not alone in its objections to a U.S. military attack.
"There is an international process, there is a legal process that nations go through that has not been gone through. It's not a surprise that no country in the world supports this. Could it be that a few people in the U.S. are right and the whole world is wrong? We doubt it," he said.
Saudi Arabia is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Persian Gulf, but the kingdom has asked the U.S. not to use the base for an assault on Iraq.
Bush is unlikely to press that issue in talks with the prince, but he will aim to ease tensions that have been growing since the Sept. 11 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.
The president wants assurances from the Saudis that they will continue to produce and deliver oil after an attack on Iraq, especially important if a long war cuts back Persian Gulf production and crude prices skyrocket.
In 1973, Saudi Arabia was part of an OPEC effort to punish Western countries for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. The Saudis have said recently that they would not use oil as a weapon again.
The two did not face reporters, a sign that talks were more than just a mere showcase for the two nations to promote their relationship.
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.
White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the quotes were not accurate but the sentiment was the same.
Specifically, they said Bush told the crown prince that a recommendation from a private defense analyst to a Pentagon advisory board did not reflect his views or the opinion of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The board was told that Saudi Arabia should be given an ultimatum to stop supporting terrorism or face retaliation.
On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney made the administration's strongest case yet for launching a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, saying those who oppose it are guilty of willful blindness.
Arab officials don't see it that way. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday that an attack against Saddam would leave the Middle East in chaos.
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger also has problems with a U.S. military action in Iraq.
"We keep hearing these reports, at the same time we keep hearing the president hasn't made up his mind yet, I'm beginning to wonder what is the right time myself. I am of the view that we haven't yet established the case that it is so terribly dangerous that we must move when we don't have any allies and we don't know what to do when we get rid of him," he said.
Tuesday's visit is the second by the prince to the Crawford ranch, a rare event for many diplomats and sign of the highest respect from Bush to his guests. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited there last year and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is due in late October.
Prince Bandar joined Crown Prince Abdullah at the ranch in April.
While the meeting was characterized as a casual and spontaneous event with diplomatic undertones, Prince Bandar may have wondered about the relationship briefly on Monday when a private plane chartered by the Saudis for the meeting was escorted by fighter jets to a Colorado airport after traffic controllers raised suspicions about the flight.
Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Prince Bandar was not on the plane. The aircraft was making a stopover in Colorado on Monday to pick up the prince's children, who joined him in Waco on Tuesday for his meeting with Bush.
Sources told Fox News that there was a problem with diplomatic clearances. Airport officials called it a hitch in the paperwork.
A seven-member congressional delegation is going to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to seek clarification from the royal family about its policy on anti-terrorism.
On Monday, the Saudis tried to change the suspicious atmosphere by announcing that it had arrested several alleged Al Qaeda sympathizers, including 11 Saudis accused of plotting to shoot down a U.S. military plane.
Still, about 700 relatives of Sept. 11 victims filed suit against the Saudi and Sudanese governments and some institutions earlier this month claiming that they helped finance Usama 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 announced the decision to deny the United States access to its base for an attack on Iraq and affirmed the kingdom's opposition to an incursion.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.