Tense relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States are complicating the Biden administration’s efforts to convince Riyadh to ramp up oil production — which could provide some relief to consumers amid high prices exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The US government has become increasingly critical of the Saudis since the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and killed.
The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and tensions over the civil war in Yemen, which have led to bipartisan criticism from Congress, have intensified the struggle.
It puts the government in a difficult position as it seeks to get Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to increase production.
“I hate the fact that we have to ask the Saudis to produce more oil,” said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) Malinowski Tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia complicate the drive for more oil overnight Defense and National Security – presented by AM General – More guns but no planes for Ukraine Zelensky challenges Congress’s conscience MORE (DN.J.), who was a top human rights official during the Obama administration, told reporters this week.
“I hate that the Biden administration has to figure out how to use our relationship with Saudi Arabia to get them to do that so my constituents aren’t pressured at the pump,” he added.
Saudi Arabia’s control over strategic oil reserves could force the Biden administration, which is under pressure to provide consumers with some relief amid inflation and high gas prices ahead of the interim terms, to rethink its strategy on Riyadh.
The president has tried to make the relationship pragmatic again, focusing on shared security interests and energy needs, while expressing concern about the human rights situation in Riyadh.
This marked a sharp reversal of the Trump administration’s overly friendly, personal dealings with Riyadh and carte blanche support for the Saudi Arabia-led offensive in Yemen’s devastating civil war.
But Biden’s strategy now appears to have put the government at a disadvantage in a global time of need.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s daily ruler and heir apparent, reportedly declined a call from Biden as part of an outreach in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The White House Refuted The Wall Street Journal’s Report, With Press Secretary Jen PsakiJen Psaki Tensions between US and Saudi Arabia complicate push for more oil Psaki says Biden will not go to Ukraine during Sasse Europe trip: ‘There are things in Judge Jackson’s file that are troubling’ MORE called it “inaccurate”.
“The president’s focus is really on our relationship moving forward — where we can work together, how we can work together here at home on economic and national security. And he looks forward to continuing that,” she told reporters last week. during a briefing.
High gasoline prices exacerbated by the invasion have given Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) strategically dominant positions as members of OPEC+, the main group of oil-producing countries.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE can add more oil because they have “reserve capacity”, barrels that can be brought to market quickly and sustained over a period of time.
But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have resisted calls to increase supply, part of agreements reached with Russia to strengthen their own economies, according to Hussein Ibish, senior scientist for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, the UAE rely on a hard-fought OPEC+ oil production deal with Russia as the basis for their national development and economic transition planning,” he wrote in a recent article.
The Saudis and the Emirates have also resisted issuing blunt statements condemning the Russian invasion. Instead, their top officials have criticized the US
Prince Mohammed, who US intelligence said he approved of a plot to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, said in a lengthy interview published this month in The Atlantic that he “just” didn’t care what Biden made of him. thought and suggested that the US is estranged from him. the Saudi monarchy would hurt the president.
“It’s up to him to think about America’s interests” the magazine quoted him like saying and then shrug. “Go for it.”
Senior US officials last visited Riyadh on Feb. 17 in an effort to get Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production ahead of the Russian invasion. State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week that “we are in daily contact with our Saudi partners.”
But the Saudis and the UAE appear to be addressing their grievances with the US
UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba this month reportedly said Washington and Abu Dhabi are undergoing a “stress test”.
“But I have every confidence that we will get out of it and get to a better place,” he reportedly said at a defense conference in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is awaiting government approval to approve the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to the country and has also pressured Biden to re-designate the Yemeni Houthi separatists as a foreign terrorist organization, which the president says. has withdrawn.
Biden has said he is considering re-imposing the terrorist designation, but human rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have warned it would block the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Katherine Bauer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former senior Treasury official who has served in Israel and the Gulf, said specific tensions between the US and Gulf states are part of a wider sense of US withdrawal from the region. .
“The feeling that the US isn’t paying enough attention…I think it adds to this feeling, from the perspective out there, that the US hasn’t been the most reliable partner in the recent past,” she said.
But for some, warming relations with the Gulf in exchange for increased oil production is akin to accepting Russian energy exports, as both are responsible for major human rights violations.
Biden in his first month in office ended U.S. military support for offensive Saudi operations in Yemen, where human rights groups have documented thousands of civilian casualties caused by Saudi-led airstrikes, with a layer of indiscriminate violence atop the war-torn country. is classified as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
“I think what the Saudis have done in Yemen is actually worse, but it just got less attention,” said William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
“I think if even a fraction of the pressure Russia feels were put on Saudi Arabia, there would be a good chance of stopping the killings in Yemen,” he added.
However, Republicans have made blaming Biden for high gas prices a key attack strategy.
International factors, rather than Biden’s policies, are the main cause of high prices.
Republicans and some government officials alike have also pushed for more US drilling.
“We are on a war base, we are in an emergency and we need to increase supply responsibly at short notice,” Energy Minister Jennifer GranholmJennifer Granholm Tensions between US and Saudi Arabia complicate push for more oil Gas prices spark tensions within Democratic Party Overnight Energy & Environment – Biden calls for faster gas price cut MORE said at an industry conference this month.
It is an argument supported by some US allies in Europe, including Greece.
“I don’t think we should rely on Russia or the Gulf countries for our oil imports, we should definitely see the US as an option,” Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Varvitsiotis Miltiadis told The Hill in an interview in Washington this week. †
“We need to develop the energy sources that are tangible and close to us to make the system more stable,” he added.
However, it would take time for US companies to bring more oil online, so the government is looking for the most immediate solution.
Kurt VolkerKurt Volker Tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia complicate the drive for more oil Biden finds hands tied to Ukraine The memo: Zelensky’s virtual speech increases pressure on Biden MOREFormer US ambassador to NATO said the government is following the right strategy by looking to Gulf states to offset energy shortages caused by the Russian invasion. He argued that the European Union and the United Kingdom should follow Biden’s lead and ban Russian oil and gas.
“I think this is the right thing to do. We should talk to everyone about the oil and gas markets,” Volker said.
Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.