Bush Uses Saudi Visit to Ask for Oil

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged OPEC nations on Tuesday to put more oil on the world market and warned that soaring prices could cause an economic slowdown in the United States.

"High energy prices can damage consuming economies," the president told a small group of reporters traveling with him in the Middle East.

"It's affected our families. Paying more for gasoline hurts some of the American families, and I'll make that clear to him," said Bush, heading into more talks with Saudi King Abdullah. Shortly after Bush spoke, the Saudi oil minister said the kingdom, responsible for almost one-third of the cartel's total output, would raise oil production when the market justified it.

In a stern warning to Iran days after a Jan. 6 confrontation with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, Bush put Tehran on notice that it needs to be careful. The president said it would not matter to him whether an attack against a U.S. vessel resulted from an order by the government in Iran or a rash decision by an Iranian boat captain.

"It's not going to matter to me one way or another," Bush said. If the Iranians hit a U.S. ship, "there are going to be serious consequences," he said.

U.S. officials claim Iranian speedboats swarmed three U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway that is the only entry and exit to the Persian Gulf. They said U.S. commanders were considering firing warning shots, before the retreat of the five Iranian speedboats, which the Pentagon said were operated by the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Bush spoke to reporters before meeting late Tuesday with Abdullah, whose country holds the world's largest supply of oil. Bush said U.S. consumers were feeling the pain of rising oil prices. "When consumers have less purchasing power, it could cause the economy to slow down," Bush said. "I hope OPEC nations put more supply on the market," he added. "It would be helpful."

Asked whether he thought the U.S. economy was sliding toward recession, as some economists predict, Bush said, "These are times of economic uncertainty, but I have confidence in the future." He said the underpinnings of the economy were strong, and "I'm optimistic."

In Washington, two government reports released Tuesday added to fears of a recession: Wholesale inflation shot up in 2007 by the largest amount in 26 years and retail sales fell in December.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling with Bush in the Mideast, slipped away from the Saudi capital early Tuesday for a quick trip to Iraq. Bush said he had been encouraged by signs of progress in Baghdad and decided that she could "help push the momentum by her very presence."

She congratulated the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on the passage of legislation reinstating former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs and pushing for other benchmark laws.