By Janine Zacharia Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Saudi monarchy once depended on the U.S. to protect its reign and its oil from foes like Saddam Hussein. These days, President George W. Bush needs the world's biggest exporter of crude more than it needs him. With oil at about $90 a barrel, the U.S. economy at risk of sliding into recession and American banks trying to raise cash to ride out the subprime-mortgage crisis, Bush has become a supplicant for Saudi financial help. He also needs the kingdom to get behind his Palestinian peace push, to keep Iran at bay and to support political stability in Iraq. ``It's very late in his tenure,'' says Craig Unger, author of ``House of Bush, House of Saud,'' which probed the relationship between the two families, and a new book, ``The Fall of the House of Bush.'' ``He's in a much weaker position now, and he has very little leverage.'' It wasn't always this way. During the presidency of Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, ``the United States had an extraordinarily close and cooperative relationship with Saudi Arabia across the board,'' says Chas. Freeman, who was then U.S. ambassador to the kingdom. ``Saudi Arabia made a special effort to remain the principal supplier of oil to the U.S., something it no longer does. We had forces in Saudi Arabia. We no longer have that relationship.'' On the surface, watching stallions on King Abdullah's ranch during his trip to the Middle East last week, Bush the rancher and former oil man seemed in his comfort zone. Little Comfort The Saudis may give Bush little comfort: Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said in Riyadh that more crude would be pumped only ``when the market justifies it.'' The minister noted that economies are still growing with oil higher than $90 a barrel and said his country wants to avoid ``cycles of volatility.'' Saudi Arabia supplies the U.S. with about 1.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, one-seventh of U.S. imports and second only to Canada's 1.9 million barrels. Saudi clout in production shapes the world oil market, and its policies will weigh on the Feb. 1 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. As Bush's trip unfolded, U.S. dependence on Saudi Arabia was further illustrated when Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup Inc.'s biggest individual investor, disclosed that he had put more money into the New York-based banking company. The increase was announced the same day Citigroup posted a $9.83 billion fourth-quarter net loss, the biggest in its 196-year history, tied to the mortgage meltdown. Bush's Successor While listening to American policy needs, officials in Saudi Arabia and in other Persian Gulf kingdoms were often as interested in who would follow Bush as in what Bush wanted. U.S. officials said the presidential election came up in every conversation during the trip, which was bracketed by the New Hampshire primary at the start and the Michigan primary at the end. Bush's tour also came up during the Jan. 15 Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Senator Hillary Clinton tried to turn it into an object of derision by describing Bush as ``begging the Saudis'' to cut the price of oil. ``How pathetic,'' she said. For Bush, his first visit to Saudi Arabia was meant to rekindle ties between two historically close families, to capitalize on the November conference for Israel and the Palestinians in Annapolis, Maryland, by winning Saudi cooperation in the peace effort, and most importantly, to persuade the Saudis to pump more oil. Negative Impact King Abdullah ``understands the situation and is worried about high oil prices and how they can negatively impact economies around the world,'' Bush's spokeswoman, Dana Perino, told reporters after Bush left the kingdom. Time isn't on Bush's side to reach many of those goals. He leaves office in one year, which may not be long enough to change the Saudi strategy for the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said last week his country wouldn't normalize ties with Israel. Bush's policies ``have been catastrophic'' for the Saudis, Freeman says. He cites neglect of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, along with the Iraq invasion that has empowered Iran, thereby threatening the dominance of Sunni leaders in the region. In answer to the Iranian threat, Bush offered to sell Saudi Arabia kits for satellite-guided smart bombs valued at about $123 million. The administration formally notified the U.S. Congress of the deal during his visit. U.S. Dependence Because of U.S. dependence, there is little Bush could do to prod the Saudis toward more democracy, a cornerstone of the president's rhetorical policy toward the Middle East since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when oil prices were around $28 a barrel. While Bush gave a speech in the United Arab Emirates on the importance of freedom, the discussion of democracy halted as soon as Air Force One crossed into Saudi Arabia, where leaders rule nationally by decree and religious police maintain strict codes of morality. Asked if Bush had protested the issue of a Saudi blogger who had been detained, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated the issue hadn't risen to the president's level. Bush ``met with many people'' and ``asked many questions,'' said Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, during the visit. ``I think the presence of the president here is better than a question about human rights in Saudi Arabia.'' To contact the reporter on this story: Janine Zacharia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at firstname.lastname@example.org الذيب مايهرول عبث ..!!