US and Saudi Arabia clash in public over oil cut, Russia
The United States and Saudi Arabia traded bitter barbs Thursday over last week’s OPEC+ oil output cut, with Washington accusing Riyadh of knowingly boosting Russian interests.
The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel — which includes Russia — angered Washington by cutting production by two million barrels a day from November, adding further pressure on soaring crude prices.
Saudi Arabia issued a rare press release on Thursday expressing “total rejection” of accusations it was “taking sides” as President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine rages on.
But White House spokesman John Kirby quickly fired back, saying that Riyadh knew the cut “would increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions.”
The United States has vowed to re-evaluate ties with the oil-rich kingdom since the cut, which was seen as a diplomatic slap in the face for President Joe Biden.
Despite vowing to make the kingdom an international “pariah” following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in July and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — with the two greeting each other with a high-profile fist bump.
The OPEC supply cut decision was “moral and military support because it allows (Putin) to continue to fund his war-making machine,” Kirby said, in unusually strong remarks.
It “certainly gave… Mr. Putin a sense of comfort.”
Other OPEC+ nations “felt coerced to support Riyadh’s direction,” Kirby added, accusing Saudi Arabia of “twisting arms to get what they wanted.”
The oil cut comes at a sensitive moment for Biden as the Democratic Party faces tricky midterm elections in November with rising consumer prices, especially at the gas pump, a key concern for voters.
Asked about Riyadh’s move, Biden told reporters in Los Angeles: “We’re about to talk to them.”
– Oil funds Russian war –
In its press release, Saudi Arabia insisted that decisions by OPEC+ were taken “purely on economic considerations.”
And it suggested that Biden’s administration had asked the cartel to delay any cuts until after Americans go to the polls on November 8.
Biden has promised “consequences” for Saudi Arabia, but given no further details.
Russia relies on high oil prices to fund its floundering invasion of Ukraine, and some US lawmakers have called for Washington to halt all cooperation with Riyadh.
“We wanted to know that when the chips were down, when there was a global crisis, that the Saudis would choose us,” said Senator Bob Menendez this week. “Well, they didn’t. They chose Russia.”
Kirby said Thursday that “the Saudi foreign ministry can try to spin or deflect, but the facts are simple. The world is rallying behind Ukraine in combatting Russian aggression.”
The partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia was sealed after World War II, providing the kingdom with military protection in exchange for American access to oil.
Fraught with crises, the relationship was revived by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, whose single term saw Riyadh accounting for a quarter of US arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Continuing the rapprochement, the United States announced in August that Saudi Arabia would buy 300 Patriot MIM-104E missile systems, which can be used to bring down long-range incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as attacking aircraft.
Saudi Arabia, which backs the Yemeni government, has faced rocket threats from Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who have been supplied with Iranian equipment and technology.