The White House on Wednesday said a senior Saudi official said the kingdom was the “most mature” partner in an ongoing dispute over oil production, as senior US officials began exploring options to recalibrate ties with the Gulf monarchy.
“It’s not like high school romance here,” said John Kirby, communications coordinator for the National Security Council, when asked about a comment made by Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman at an investment conference in Riyadh this week.
The bitter back-and-forth underscored the depth at which relations between Washington and Riyadh have sunk since the oil cartel decision, which caught Washington by surprise after months of intensive efforts by Biden administration officials to persuade the kingdom. increase production, in part, Russia’s oil profits to ease the famine.
Biden, when he visited Saudi Arabia in July, emerged from meetings with the kingdom’s top leaders confident that oil production would increase. A month later, he and his senior officials accused the kingdom of siding with Russia in its war on Ukraine when OPEC+ announced it would cut 2 million barrels a day.
The president tasked his team with finding ways to “recalibrate” US relations with Saudi Arabia, a process that has already begun. And he said that he will impose “consequences” on the kingdom, in consultation with members of Congress.
Saudi officials responded by saying their decision was based on market conditions, not geopolitics, and insisted they were taking steps to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US confirmed to CNN that while Riyadh’s relationship with Washington is at a “point of disagreement”, the ties between the two longtime allies are strong.
“Our relationship is more than arms sales and more than oil exchange,” Princess Reema said in the interview.
However, at the investment summit, the energy minister suggested that Saudi Arabia was taking the high ground in the ongoing conflict.
“I think Saudi Arabia decided to be more mature guys and let the dice fall,” Prince Abdulaziz told the group of international businessmen, bank executives and investors, according to Reuters.
Kirby said that giving the Washington-Riyadh ties a more “mature” partnership was not helpful.
“We are talking about an important and important relationship, a partnership that has lasted more than 80 years,” he said. “I don’t think speaking in those terms conveys the seriousness with which we are considering how important this relationship is.”
U.S. officials made it clear ahead of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July that energy would be a topic of discussion, though they insisted it would only be part of talks that included regional issues and security.
Biden himself said he hoped to boost oil production during his stopover in Jeddah.
In the days and weeks leading up to the OPEC+ meeting in early October, the Biden administration launched a full-scale pressure campaign in a last-ditch effort to force the Middle Eastern ally to sharply cut oil production.
Biden’s top energy, economic and foreign policy officials to lobby foreign counterparts in Middle Eastern allies, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to vote against cutting oil production. The reduction in production was the largest reduction since the start of the pandemic.
The decision to cut production “was not consistent with the conversations we were having,” Kirby said Wednesday.
Inside the White House, Biden’s team was angry, in part because they understood that production would increase after meetings with Saudi leaders.
“There are going to be consequences for what we’ve done with Russia,” Biden said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
In initial talks between administration officials and Capitol Hill, some of the ideas discussed include pulling the US F-16 fleet out of Saudi Arabia, ending ongoing US military aid to the country and the administration backing legislation that would block OPEC protection. US Antitrust Lawsuits for Collusion to Fix Oil Prices.
Administration officials have indicated they are open to some of the ideas on the table, sources familiar with the talks said, although Biden has said he will wait until Congress returns after the midterm elections to make any final decisions.
Any move by the US could have unintended consequences, and the Biden administration is concerned about what those consequences might look like, especially since the US-Saudi relationship is seen as a key pillar of regional stability. There are also concerns within the administration that further damage to the economy could be done if the NOPEC legislation is passed, which would amend antitrust law to remove the kingdom’s sovereign immunity.
That legislation is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill among Republicans and Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has indicated he is open to supporting it.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US had seen “positive developments” from Saudi Arabia since OPEC+’s decision to cut oil production, but said those developments “do not offset” the oil cartel’s decision.
At a Bloomberg event on Wednesday, Blinken noted that the US has made it clear to Riyadh that it believes cutting production was a “wrong decision”.
“But having said that, we’ve seen some interesting things since the decision was made,” the top US diplomat said. “The Arabs supported an important United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s aggression, particularly a resolution in the General Assembly condemning the alleged annexation of Ukrainian territory. We have also seen the Saudis providing Ukraine with around $400 million in humanitarian aid.”
“So these are positive developments. They don’t make up for the OPEC+ decision on production, but we take it into account,” said Blinken.
A day earlier, a White House spokesman said those steps would be taken into account in Biden’s review.
“We will wait to see what Saudi Arabia does in the coming weeks and we will report on our inquiries,” said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Kirby said Biden was in “no rush” to complete a review of Saudi ties, but said he was considering national security options.
“We felt that was short-sighted. And again, of course, we will take a look at the relationship going forward,” he said.