President Joe Biden is to “re-evaluate” the US relationship with Riyadh, the White House said Tuesday, after a Saudi-led coalition of oil-producing nations sided with Russia to slash output.
The 13-nation OPEC cartel and its 10 allies headed by Moscow angered the White House last week with its decision to reduce output by two million barrels a day from November — raising fears that oil prices could soar.
“I think the president’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to re-evaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
“Certainly in light of the OPEC decision, I think that’s where he is.”
The decision was widely seen as a diplomatic slap in the face, since Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in July and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite vowing to make the kingdom an international “pariah” following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It also comes at a sensitive moment for Biden’s Democratic party, as it faces November midterm elections with rising consumer prices a key Republican talking point.
Saudi Arabia has defended the planned production cuts, saying the priority of OPEC+ was “to maintain a sustainable oil market”.
On Tuesday, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told the Al-Arabiya channel that the move “was purely economic and was taken unanimously by the (organization’s) member states.”
“OPEC+ members acted responsibly and took the appropriate decision,” he said.
Kirby added that Biden was “willing to work with Congress to think through what that relationship (with Saudi Arabia) ought to look like going forward,” although he clarified that no formal discussions had yet begun.
His remarks came a day after Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for Washington to halt all cooperation with Riyadh.
Menendez said the kingdom had decided to “underwrite” Russia’s war in Ukraine with a move he denounced as a concession to Moscow that would hurt the global economy.
“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.
“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not greenlight any cooperation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine.”
The partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia was sealed after World War II, providing the kingdom with military protection in exchange for American access to oil.