WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia shut down Biden officials’ pleadings to delay the crucial OPEC+ decision last week slashing oil production until after the upcoming midterm elections, with Riyadh viewing the demand as a political ploy, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
American officials cautioned the Saudi government that cutting oil production would weaken Washington’s already strained relationship with Riyadh, and that the US would interpret the move as the kingdom taking Russia’s side in its ongoing war on Ukraine, according to the newspaper, which cited unnamed sources.
Saudi leaders shrugged off the White House’s request, the Journal reported “which they viewed as a political gambit by the Biden administration to avoid bad news” ahead of the Nov. 8 elections.
Instead, the Saudi-led group of oil-producing nations announced that it will slash output by 2 million barrels a day, causing a spike in the price of crude oil — with a rise in US gas prices expected to follow.
In response, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez called to cut all ties with the Middle Eastern nation Tuesday.
“The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests,” Menendez said in a statement. “As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. “Enough is enough.”
Saudi Arabia is the US’ largest foreign military sales customer, with more than $100 billion in active cases, according to the State Department — which in August approved the $3.05 billion sale of 300 Patriot guided tactical ballistic missiles and associated equipment.
Three other House Democrats introduced a bill last week that would pull all US troops and missile defense systems from Saudi Arabia in response to the OPEC+ decision.
“Saudi Arabia[’s] … drastic cut in oil production, despite President Biden’s overtures to both countries in recent months, is a hostile act against the United States and a clear signal that they have chosen to side with Russia in its war against Ukraine,” said Reps. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Sean Casten of Illinois and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania in a joint statement.
Also on Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called on Congress to pass the NOPEC Act, which would make “oil-producing and exporting cartels” illegal in the US. The bill, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, would also strip foreign leaders of their sovereign immunity in oil cartel cases.
“Saudi Arabia’s collusion with Putin to fix prices will increase gas prices for Americans at a time when inflation is high,” Durbin said on Twitter. “The Senate must take action against price fixing by OPEC and pass this legislation.”
Meanwhile, White House officials said publicly Tuesday that Biden would “re-evaluate” the partnership between Washington and Riyadh, after the president’s much-scrutinized and criticized July meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have been a miserable failure — despite press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted the president did not regret his trip to the Middle East.
“The president has been very clear that the United States needs a different kind of relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Jean-Pierre said. “When OPEC made the decision to align their energy policy with Russia’s war aims and against the American people further underscores that reasoning to realign that relationship to reevaluate that relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Hours earlier, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN that those conversations should start “right away.”
“I don’t think this is anything that’s going to have to wait or should wait, quite frankly, for much longer,” he said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden has wanted to review the American relationship with Saudi Arabia since taking office last year, but the OPEC+ decision revamped that conversation.
“Our North Star – our guiding principle – [is] that we have a relationship that serves our interests,” Price said. “This is not a bilateral relationship that has always served our interests since we came into office.”
According to the State Department, Saudi Arabia is America’s third-leading source of imported oil.
In response to the OPEC+ cut, Biden abruptly announced on Oct. 5 that he would release 10 million more barrels from the US strategic reserve in a bid to offset cuts that have already boosted prices at the pump.
Crude oil prices subsequently spiked, adding more pressure to the global energy markets already strained by the effects of Russia’s invasion.
The average nationwide price of a gallon of gas stood at $3.92 on Tuesday, according to AAA — up 12 cents from last week.
Price called the OPEC+ decision “short-sighted” and predicted the oil cuts “over the longer term won’t serve anyone’s interests.”
“It won’t work to the benefit of individual OPEC member countries,” Price said. “In fact, this will lead countries around the world who are not members of the cartel to take steps to become even more resilient, to become even more energy independent, to explore steps to ease the grip that the OPEC cartel has on global energy prices .”