When Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan visits President Bush's Texas ranch today, he will join a small list of world statesmen to receive the coveted invitation reserved for good friends -- or, as now, sensitive diplomacy. Yet Bush will need more than charm and an intimate setting to reverse a downward spiral in U.S.-Saudi relations, which are key to U.S. interests in the Middle East and broader U.S. security.
Bush's dilemma is that deep differences between the USA and Saudi Arabia have opened up since Sept. 11. While the rifts can be papered over for now, they require a major rethinking of a 60-year-old friendship of convenience between the world's leading power and the top oil exporter.
Many Americans, angry to learn that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, question why the U.S. government still considers a fundamentalist Islamic nation ruled by a repressive monarchy to be a ''friend.''