The Saudi view, expressed with mounting vehemence over the past 12 months, is that US interests in the Middle East are at risk because of Washington’s failure to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to take the steps necessary to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Saudi officials have emphasised in public that there is no question of the kingdom using oil as a political weapon, or of demanding that US military personnel should leave Saudi Arabia. However, the message in private is less reassuring for the US. ‘It is a mistake to think that our people will not do what is necessary to survive,’ the New York Times on 25 April quoted ‘a person close to the crown prince’ as saying. ‘It’s damned lonely in our part of the world, and we can no longer defend our relationship to our people.’

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Saud al-Faisal said on the eve of the Abdullah-Bush meeting that there can be no question of peace negotiations until Israel has pulled back its forces from the occupied territories, stopped settlement activities and lifted the siege on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The crown prince’s peace initiative, adopted by the Beirut Arab summit on 27 March offers normal relations between Arab states and Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The crown prince has a number of engagements in the US after the meeting with Bush. It has been suggested that if the summit meeting does not satisfy the Saudi side, the delegation will return directly to Riyadh.