A dispute over oil between Saudi Arabia and the United States is straining the long-standing relationship between Washington and its Gulf ally. Saudi officials, in coordination with OPEC Plus, recently decided to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day. The Saudis say the cut was made to prevent a collapse in oil prices. Analysts say the move undercuts Western sanctions on Russia and will jeopardize energy security.
News reports have made much of the political fallout from President Joe Biden’s visit this summer to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, to seek more output from the oil giant to bring down energy prices.
Martin Indyk, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and former adviser on the Middle East to President Barack Obama, says MBS, as the crown prince is known, reneged on a commitment he made to Biden to provide additional oil.
“The crown prince committed to increasing production of oil over the next few months until the end of the year, to 750,000 barrels a day,” he said. “That was the commitment that the crown prince made when the president was there. But there was an agreement not to announce the details. They didn’t live up to that commitment.”
Speaking to an online event sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indyk called “highly problematic” the Saudi unwillingness to consider the bigger picture or its relationship with the United States.
“The crown prince appears to have been panicked, if you can believe the story, by his oil minister, older stepbrother Abdulaziz bin Salman, who told him that considering the budget, the price of oil was likely to drop to $50, 40 even, and they wouldn’t be able to pay for MBS’s Vision 2030 dreams of development for Saudi Arabia,” he said. “So, MBS said, okay, we’re going to cut oil, if that’s the case. So, they were focused very parochially on their economic self-interest without considering the impact that it would have not only on a commitment to the president of the United States, but the impact on the effort to sanction Russia and reduce its oil revenues at a critical moment as Europe is going into winter and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin bombing civilians in Ukraine.”
Some members of Congress have called for a review of U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia.
Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is urging the U.S. to reduce weapons sales and spare parts to the Saudis and reduce the presence of U.S. contractors in the kingdom.
“It’s going to take a broad effort, but I think those military-to-military steps are a very good place to start,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we give up a relationship with Saudi Arabia. It just means that we would demilitarize most of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We can still look to Saudi Arabia for support for issues like on ending the war in Yemen.”
William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that any reconsideration of arming Saudi Arabia would need to be seriously debated within the White House and Congress.
But he added that Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine meant that “political considerations are shifting.”