Biden’s awkward encounter with Mohammed bin Salman in July was a humiliating attempt to restore relations with the world’s most influential oil power at a time when the US. sought his help in countering the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting rise in oil prices.
That fist punch three months ago was followed this week by a slap in the face of Prince Mohammed: A major oil production cut by OPEC producers and Russia that threatens to support oil producer Russia in its war in Ukraine, driving up inflation and pushing gas prices back to levels just ahead of the US midterm elections that infuriate voters, raising Biden’s election prospects be undermined and democrats.
Asked about Saudi Arabia’s move, Biden told reporters on Thursday it was “a disappointment, and it says there are problems” in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.
A number of Democrats in Congress on Thursday called on the US to respond by withdrawing its decades-old supply of weapons and US military protection to Saudi Arabia, accusing Prince Mohammed had stopped defending Saudi Arabia’s defenses. side of a more than 70-year-old strategic company. The relationship is based on the US protecting the kingdom from its outside enemies, and Saudi Arabia supplying global markets with enough oil to keep them stable.
New Jersey Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski called the cuts to oil production “a hostile act” and led two other lawmakers to pass legislation that would withdraw US troops and Patriot missile batteries from the kingdom.
“What Saudi Arabia Did to Help” Putin to continue waging its despicable, brutal war against Ukraine, Americans will long remember,” Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The US currently has no plans to withdraw military personnel or equipment from Saudi Arabia, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Thursday.
Congress and the government responded to the announcement of a more-than-expected cut of 2 million barrels per day by the OPEC-plus group, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. The production cut is likely to push up prices and bolster the oil revenues that Russia is using to continue its war in Ukraine, despite US-led international sanctions, and further shake up a global economy already struggling with short-term energy supplies.
Saudi oil minister Abdulaziz bin Salman, a half-brother of the crown prince, insisted during the OPEC-plus session that there was no “combatant spirit” in the action.
The administration says it is looking for ways to mitigate the impact of the OPEC decision, noting that costs at the pump have continued to fall in recent months.
Foreign arms sales are ultimately up to Congress to approve or disapprove, a US official argued Thursday, so it was up to lawmakers to choose whether to try to make amends with cutting US weapons to Saudi Arabia. . The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s views on the matter.
The official called Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia and meetings with leaders in the Middle East there steps toward building relations across the region, and said Biden’s meeting with the Crown Prince was in line with other face-to-face sessions with allies, rivals and opponents, including Putin.
As a candidate, Biden had made a passionate pledge to make the Saudi royal family an “outcast” over human rights abuses, most notably the assassination by Saudi officials of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 .
US intelligence has formally concluded that Prince Mohammed, who exercises much of power in Saudi Arabia in place of his elderly father, King Salman, had ordered or authorized Khashoggi’s assassination.
As president, Biden disappointed human rights defenders when he chose not to directly punish Prince Mohammed, citing his high position in the kingdom and the US’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia.
Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February exacerbated the already tight global oil market, pushing up gasoline prices and inflation in general. Ally Israel and some in the government argued that smooth relations between Riyadh and Washington should be the US priority.
As US prices rose at the pump and Biden’s polls fell further, senior government officials began to commute to the Gulf in an attempt to assuage Prince Mohammed’s anger at Biden’s campaign comments and US findings on the assassination of Khashoggi. That led to Biden making his first visit as president to Saudi Arabia in July, cementing the presidential prestige behind the effort to get US-Saudi relations and global oil supplies back on track.
In Jeddah, Biden stopped offering a long-awaited handshake. Instead, Biden, who looked more frail and stooped compared to Prince Mohammed, who is in his late thirties, leaned forward to offer an unusual punch. Prince Mohammed answered it. Every smile on the faces of the two men as they touched their knuckles was fleeting.
Critics deplored Biden’s assistance to a prince accused of ordering the imprisonment, kidnapping, torture and murder of those, even royal members and relatives, who oppose him or express differing views.
Even if “you’re not willing to use the sticks with MBS, don’t give up the carrots for free,” Khalid al Jabri, the son of a former Saudi minister of state, Saad al Jabri, said Thursday, using the initials of the Prince.
The senior al Jabri accuses Prince Mohammed of sending an assassination squad after him in 2018 and of detaining two of his children to try to force his return. Prince Mohammed directly denies wrongdoing, although he says that as Saudi leader he takes responsibility for the events that await him.
Khalid al Jabri, who like his father now lives in exile, made an argument echoed by rights advocates, democratic legislators and others:
“That’s a major flaw of Biden’s policy so far, that in this kind of US-Saudi rapprochement it’s been one-sided, it’s one-way concessions. And that’s not working for MBS.”
Saudi Arabia has taken a number of steps that have benefited the US since Biden’s visit. Saudi Arabia was one of the middlemen that recently won the release of two Americans and other foreigners imprisoned by Russia while fighting for Ukraine. And OPEC-plus saw a modest increase in oil production shortly after the visit. The US official cited Saudi Arabia’s agreement to allow Israeli civilian flights over Saudi territory as a benefit of Biden’s trip.
However, subsequent cuts in oil production have more than offset previous gains. Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials have also maintained warm contacts with Russian officials outwardly. And rights advocates point to a string of decades-long prison sentences handed down to Saudi men and women for the lenient freedom of expression, especially tweets, since Biden’s visit.
In November, the Biden administration will have to decide whether to make another major concession to the prince. A US court has set that deadline for the US to determine whether it agrees or disagrees with Prince Mohammed’s lawyer that the prince has legal immunity from a lawsuit in US federal court over Khashoggi’s murder.
Lawmakers are slated to leave Washington until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, and when they return, they will focus on funding federal agencies for the full fiscal year through September 2023. And the other two lawmakers are small.
Rising gas prices would be bad news for Democrats heading into the latter part of the midterm elections, while Republicans are eager to capitalize on decades of high inflation and rising cost of living, with high gas prices a constant reminder as voters fill their tanks.
Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest Democrat in the Senate, had one of the most scathing responses to OPEC’s announcement.
“From unanswered questions about 9/11 and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, to conspiring with Putin to punish the US with higher oil prices, the Saudi royal family has never been a reliable ally of our nation. It is time for our foreign policy to change. envision a world without their alliance,” he tweeted Thursday.