U.S. Presidents' Saudi Ritual Nearly Obsolete

President Bush appealed to Saudi leaders this week to increase the flow of oil — to help to keep prices under control. It's a ritual for U.S. presidents — and one that NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel says is almost obsolete.

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But China may not be exporting cars to the U.S. quite yet, but more and more people there are buying cars. The huge Chinese demand for oil is one of the main reasons that oil prices have risen so high. And that, in turn, affects the U.S. economy. The price of oil was a key topic for President Bush during his trip to the Persian Gulf. But NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel says the U.S. will have to look beyond the Gulf.

TED KOPPEL: We are getting close to the end of an era. For the better part of 50 years now, the United States has looked to the Persian Gulf as its safety valve in times of economic uncertainty. For most of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, American presidents turned to their ally, the shah of Iran. When he was removed from power and Iran became an Islamic republic, Washington focused its attention on Saudi Arabia. As was true with Iran, a willingness on the Saudi's part to settle prices by putting more oil on the world market has been rewarded, on Washington's part, by a willingness to sell to Saudi's another enormous package of sophisticated weapons. That won't work much longer. Though the Saudi has produced one-third of OPEC's oil output, the global demand for oil is on the verge of becoming so great that even Saudi Arabia won't be able to keep prices from skyrocketing. The next few American presidents will have to come to terms with China, and eventually India on the subject of oil supply and energy costs, but let's focus for the moment on China.

In another seven years or so, Chinese customers will be buying as many cars every year as are bought annually here in the United States. By that same year, 2015, China will have more miles of roads and highways than we do. By 2030, the total of automobiles in China will be greater than here in the United States. And the projections beyond that are so discouraging that, suffice it to say, there won't be enough oil to go around. Something has to change - alternate energy, alternate means of powering cars, a massive conservation effort, not to mention a genuine strategic cooperation between China and the United States. Because the days of asking the Saudis to fix our economic problems by opening another valve or two, those days are over.

This is Ted Koppel.

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