The president of the United States, Joe Biden, has promised that Saudi Arabia will pay the “consequences” of the cut announced by OPEC+ last week of two million barrels per day in world oil production. The statement, in an interview granted to the CNN television network, comes after the White House has admitted that it is reviewing the relationship with Saudi Arabia after the decision of the oil cartel, which it interprets as a slap in the face of its interests and an accolade to Russia. .
That decision of the 13 OPEC member countries and ten other producers, including Russia, has hurt, and a lot, in the US government. For months, the Biden administration had courted and pressured the regime of Prince Mohammed bin Salman from all angles, including a controversial visit by the US president, for Saudi Arabia to increase production. The cut, on the other hand, favors Russia, which is dependent on foreign oil sales to prop up its economy and defray the costs of its invasion of Ukraine. And, less than a month before the US legislative elections, it puts the Democratic government in a serious stumbling block if gasoline prices resume the summer climb.
“There are going to be consequences for what they have done, with Russia,” Biden said in the televised interview. “I am not going to go into what I weigh and what I have in mind. But there will be, there will be consequences.”
If last week Biden described the OPEC+ decision as “disappointing” and announced that he was studying options, this Tuesday senior officials from the White House and the State Department confirmed that the review of ties is underway. “We need to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia and have a different relationship, especially after the decision that was made in OPEC +,” said the spokeswoman for the presidential residence, Karine Jean-Pierre, who considered that “undoubtedly” Riyadh is has aligned with Russia in approving the cut.
The decision was made by OPEC, but “clearly” Saudi Arabia is the leader of that cartel of producing countries, John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the White House National Security Council, said in a phone call with journalists. According to Kirby, Biden believes that the time has come for relations between the two countries to serve the interests of the United States. To decide the path to follow, the White House will deal, among others, with legislators in Congress, in conversations that will begin as soon as possible: many congressmen are out of Washington, given the proximity of the legislative elections on the 8th of november.
“I think he’s willing to start those talks right now. I don’t think it’s something that can or should wait much longer, frankly,” the senior official had previously stated in an interview broadcast by CNN.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menéndez, had called on Monday for the suspension of cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, after accusing Riyadh of supporting Russia by backing the cut. In addition, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Ro Khanna, both Democrats, have introduced a bill that would suspend the sale of US weapons, including parts and technical assistance, to Saudi Arabia for a year.
But it is unclear how harsh the consequences Biden is threatening will be. The US government does not want to run the risk of throwing what has been its best ally in the Arab world into the arms of Moscow. Nor that a cooling of ties with Riyadh benefits Iran, Riyadh’s nemesis and Washington’s old enemy. This has been recognized by the spokesman for the State Department, Ned Price, when he indicated at a press conference that the rethinking presents “security challenges, some of which emanate from Iran. We will certainly not take our eyes off the threat that Iran poses not only to the region, but also beyond, in some respects.”
Saudi Arabia assures that OPEC’s decision, taken unanimously, was for purely economic reasons. A barrel of crude, which rose above $120 a barrel this summer, had dipped below $80 in September due to falling demand. And the 80 dollars is the minimum threshold that some of the producing countries calculate that they need to balance their budgets and maintain social peace.
But for the US government it is a slap in the face. The relationship, which for decades was based on a barter in which Washington provided security and modern weapons to Riyadh in exchange for cheap oil, has become gradually more difficult since Prince Mohamed bin Salman has seized power. . And although during his presidential term Donald Trump wanted to recover ties with generous arms sales, the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, suffocated and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, marked a turning point. During his election campaign, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”