Biden’s “consequences” for Saudi Arabia are reaping quiet results

Explanation

Despite its angry reaction to Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to cut oil production amid global shortages and threats of retaliation, the Biden administration is looking for signs that the strong, decades-long security relationship between Washington and Riyadh can be salvaged.

This relationship and commitment to support our strategic partners, especially against Iran, is an integral part of America’s defense in the Middle East. As recent intelligence reports warned of imminent Iranian ballistic missile and drone attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, the US Central Command launched warplanes based in the Persian Gulf region towards Iran as part of a joint state of alert between US and Saudi forces.

The strike, which was sent as an unannounced armed show of force, was the latest sign of the strength and importance of the partnership, which the administration said it was now reassessing.

“There will be some consequences of what they’ve done,” President Biden said after last month’s meeting of the OPEC Plus energy cartel, which he chairs, agreed to cut output by 2 million barrels a day. .”

The White House has argued that the cuts will only serve to raise prices and benefit cartel member Russia, just as the United States and its allies have sought to cut off Moscow’s oil revenues to reduce its war in Ukraine.

In the tense days that followed, the Saudis publicly resisted the administration’s request that the cuts be delayed by up to a month, implying that Biden wanted to avoid raising gas pump prices until the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that Saudi Arabia is trying to “turn” US concerns about Ukraine and global energy stability into a domestic political ploy, and to deflect criticism of Russia’s war-mongering.

Many members of parliament, some of whom have long advocated cutting ties with Saudi Arabia, reacted with more anger, calling for the immediate withdrawal of thousands of US troops stationed in the kingdom and an end to all arms sales and other punitive measures.

But the White House, as it ponders Biden’s promise of “consequences” and despite his continued anger, has been troubled by the backlash at home. Instead of moving quickly to respond, it is playing for time and looking for ways to win back the Saudis while maintaining strong bilateral security ties.

“Are we damaging the relationship? No,” said a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity in what has become a sensitive political and diplomatic situation. “We had a fundamental disagreement about the state of the oil market and the global economy, and we are reviewing what happened.”

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“But we have important interests in this relationship,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia’s oil and influence in the world market is second only to America’s strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, where the country plays a central role in countering Iran’s aggression. The White House, which confirmed the Wall Street Journal report on Iran’s latest threat and a high-level alert, declined to comment on the launch of US warplanes.

“Centcom is committed to our longstanding strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia,” said command spokesman Joe Buccio. “We don’t discuss operational details.” The United States maintains important air assets in the region, including F-22 fighter jets in Saudi Arabia, although the location from which they were launched is not known.

Currently, only about 6 percent of US oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. China is the largest trading partner of the kingdom, and trade relations with Russia have expanded. But security and intelligence ties are the backbone of the US-Saudi relationship, and defense officials in Washington are uneasy about what the current developments mean.

Major U.S. influence there ended after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and bilateral tensions have flared repeatedly in recent years, including human rights concerns over the Saudi war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Saudi agents by a journalist and regime critic. Jamal Khashoggi was observed. , a resident of the USA and a correspondent of the “Washington Post” newspaper.

Currently, about 2,500 US troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia, most of which are engaged in intelligence work and technological training. The United States is the supplier of nearly three-quarters of all weapons systems used by the Saudi military, including permanent parts, repairs, and upgrades.

Military sales to the kingdom have been the subject of repeated controversy in recent years, as many in Congress have objected to them. While President Donald Trump, who has boasted of billions in potential US sales to Saudi Arabia, has vetoed congressional efforts to block the deal, Biden has banned the kingdom from buying US offensive weapons shortly after taking office.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has made two major purchases, including air-to-air missiles and replacement missiles for Patriot air defense batteries. Another order for 300 Patriot missiles — more than $3 million per unit — was approved by the State Department in August, after Biden visited the kingdom, where he said he believed a deal with the crown prince would be in place. has confirmed the non-reduction of oil production.

Although Congress did not formally object to the new sale during the allotted 30 days, there was no public indication of the next step in the deal — a signed contract with the Department of Defense. The Pentagon has “no plans to announce anything” about the sale, spokesman Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago said Friday.

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Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) last month, reflecting the current level of congressional anger, said that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted and any Patriot systems there should be removed and sent to Ukraine. “If Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to side with Ukraine and the US when it comes to Russia, why should we keep these Patriots in Saudi Arabia when Ukraine and NATO allies need them.” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

While two Patriot systems remain under U.S. control in Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. personnel from missile attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen and possibly Iran, most of the systems in use there were purchased by the Saudis years ago and are owned by the kingdom. have

Biden has said he wants to consult with lawmakers about the promised “consequences,” and while strong statements from lawmakers reinforce his threat, the current congressional recess also gives the administration some breathing room.

The strongest opposition to business as usual has come from Democrats. Rep. Roe Hanna (Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) introduced a bill last month that would freeze all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia until they renegotiate oil production cuts. “The Saudis need to come to their senses,” Blumenthal said when announcing the measure. “The only purpose of this reduction in oil supply is to help the Russians and harm the Americans.” A separate bill by a trio of House Democrats led by Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ) calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement last month saying that “the United States should immediately suspend all aspects of our engagement with Saudi Arabia” and vowing that “until that the kingdom does not consider its position regarding the war in Ukraine, does not clarify any cooperation with Riyadh.”

Most Republicans who have taken a stand on the issue said Biden should use the opportunity to cut domestic oil production, even though the United States already produces about a million barrels a day more than when Biden took office.

So far, the administration has offered no indication of what punitive measures will be taken during the relationship review, and is in no rush to make a decision. “We don’t have to rush,” Kirby said last week. At the same time, the official bodies have emphasized the actions that they say the Saudis are not to calm the anger of the United States and prove their inclination towards Russia.

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“Our displeasure has already been made clear and has already had an effect,” the senior official said. “We’ve seen the Saudis react constructively.”

In addition to the Saudi vote in favor of last month’s UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s illegal seizure of four regions of Ukraine, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, called President Volodymyr Zelensky to say that Saudi Arabia 400 million dollars will help. in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, far more than its previous donation of $10 million in April.

Saudi Arabia actively supports the recent ceasefire in Yemen, which was supported by the Biden administration. And after years of American efforts to persuade Gulf states to adopt a regional missile defense system against Iran, long resisted by Saudi Arabia, the administration believes it is finally making progress.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that this is still not enough. Speaking to Bloomberg News last week, he called the UN vote and Ukraine’s charity a “positive development,” though “they don’t make up for it.” [for] OPEC Plus decision on production.

But the longer that time passes, the more likely Saudi Arabia will be to patch things up and undermine any US response. A key indicator is likely to come next month, when the European Union bans imports of Russian crude oil by sea, two months after banning all Russian oil products – and plans by the US to impose price hikes on Russian oil.

Any market shortfall that these measures may cause could be offset by increased Saudi production, officials believe. Abdulaziz bin Salma, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, told an investor conference in Riyadh last week that this was his country’s plan all along.

The Saudis have repeatedly emphasized that their only interest is the stability of the world market. The current cut in production, the minister said, provides a backup option to compensate for the upcoming sanctions against Russia without creating a major global deficit.

“You have to make sure that you create a situation where if things happen [get] worse ability” to answer, he said. “We will be the supplier to those who want us to supply.”

Abdulaziz said the Saudis have decided to be mature guys compared to those who are “depleting their emergency reserves as a mechanism to manipulate the markets”. Biden withdrew nearly a third of the U.S. strategic oil reserve this year to keep gas prices affordable for Americans already struggling with inflation and high interest rates.



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