According to interviews with about a dozen government officials and experts in Washington and the Gulf, the OPEC+ organization’s decision this week to cut oil production despite strong opposition from the United States has further strained already tense relations between the White House of President Joe Biden and the royal family of Saudi Arabia, which was once one of Washington’s staunchest allies in the Middle East. (Biden’s failed effort to put off OPEC from cutting oil production)
These sources stated that the White House exerted a lot of pressure to thwart the OPEC output cut. Prior to the midterm elections, in which his Democratic party will struggle to maintain control of the US Congress, Biden hopes to prevent gasoline prices from rising once more. During the conflict in Ukraine, Washington also wants to restrict Russia’s energy revenue.
For weeks, the US government lobbied against OPEC+. According to two sources familiar with the discussions, senior US officials from the energy, foreign policy, and economic teams have recently urged their foreign counterparts to vote against an output cut.
Last month, the administration’s special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, along with national security official Brett McGurk and Biden’s top energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss energy issues, including the OPEC+ decision.
Similar to Biden’s actions following his own July visit, they were unable to prevent an output cut.
According to a source who was briefed on the discussions, US officials advised Saudi officials that they needed to make a decision and “tried to position it as ‘us versus Russia’.”
According to the source, the Saudis said that the United States should start producing more of its own oil if it wanted more oil on the market.
Reuters emailed the Saudi government’s media office CIC for comment on the discussions but received no response.
Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz stated to Saudi TV on Wednesday, “We are concerned first and foremost with the interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and then the interests of the countries that trusted us and are members of OPEC and the OPEC + alliance.”
“We have an interest in supporting the growth of the global economy and providing energy supplies in the best way,” he stated, and OPEC weighs its interests against “those of the world.” (Biden’s failed effort to put off OPEC)
Saudi officials have been offended by Washington’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal and its withdrawal of support for offensive military operations in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, as have its actions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
After the OPEC cut, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman spoke with Bloomberg TV about the “lack of details and the lack of clarity” regarding how the US push for a price cap on Russian oil is causing uncertainty.
The kingdom sees it as “a non-market price-control mechanism, that could be used by a cartel of consumers against producers,” according to a source briefed by Saudi officials.
Oil prices fell in March as a result of a Biden-directed sale of 180 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Due to Saudi-led concerns that the United States possessed an excessive amount of influence, OPEC+ announced in March that it would stop utilizing data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a Western oil watchdog.
Biden said on Thursday that the Saudi decision was “a disappointment,” and he also said that Washington could take more action in the oil market.
On Wednesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House’s press secretary, stated, “Look, it’s clear that OPEC Plus is aligning with Russia.” She did not go into detail about how the reduction in output would affect relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Biden’s Democrats in Congress talked about returning weapons and calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, made the following statement via Twitter: “I thought the whole point of selling arms to the Gulf States despite their human rights abuses, nonsensical Yemen War, working against US interests in Libya, Sudan, etc. was that when an international crisis came, the Gulf could choose America over Russia/China.”
When asked about the criticism from the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, responded to news on Friday:” Oil and oil decisions are not politicized in Saudi Arabia.”
He went on to say, “With all due respect, the reason you have high prices in the United States is because you have a refining shortage that has existed for more than 20 years.” (Biden’s failed effort to put off OPEC from cutting oil production)
A report linking the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was released by Washington just a few weeks after Biden took office as president.
The prince, the 86-year-old son of King Salman, has said that he did not order the killing but that it happened “under my watch.”
The prince’s lawyers have been arguing in a US court that because he became prime minister last month, he is immune from prosecution for the death of Khashoggi.
Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah in July for a Gulf summit was intended to patch up relations, but he also harshly criticized bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi.
The Saudis, according to senior fellow Ben Cahill of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, hope that the production cuts will give OPEC+ control over oil prices and guarantee sufficient oil revenue to safeguard their nation from a recession.
Cahill stated, “The macroeconomic risk is getting worse all the time, so they must respond.” They are managing the market despite the fact that they are aware that a cut will irritate Washington.”