Relations between the two countries have been the subject of feverish press speculation, particularly since the mid-August launch of a lawsuit by victims of 11 September against members of the Saudi establishment.

The kingdom is working to shed its recent poor image in the US media. ‘In the past, we’ve never tried to explain ourselves to the American public,’ said Crown Prince Abdullah’s adviser Adel al-Jubeir. ‘We’ve not been very good at communicating because we’re not a very communicative culture.’

Bush also spoke with Crown Prince Abdullah by telephone on 26 August to discuss relations. Bush used the conversation to distance himself from the notorious defence department briefing in which Saudi Arabia had been labelled an enemy of the US.

In the Crawford meeting, Iraq was raised only in a general sense, without discussion of possible US military action. ‘The president stressed that he has made no decisions [on Iraq],’ said Fleischer. ‘He will continue to engage in consultations with Saudi Arabia and other nations about steps in the Middle East, steps in Iraq.’

Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in an interview with the BBC on 28 August reiterated Riyadh’s anti-war stance and talked up the kingdom’s role in fighting global terrorism. ‘Saudi Arabia has co-operated completely with the US and this stems not from the friendship between the two countries alone but because this terrorism is as much targeting Saudi Arabia as it is targeting the US,’ he said.