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


The Biden administration is looking for signs that the close decades-old security relationship between Washington and Riyadh can be salvaged, despite anger over Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to strike a global oil shortage and threaten retaliation.

These ties and the commitment to help defend our strategic partners, especially against Iran, are an integral part of US defense in the Middle East. After recent intelligence reports warned that Iranian ballistic missiles and drones were about to attack Saudi targets, US Central Command launched warplanes based in the Persian Gulf region towards Iran as part of an overall heightened state of alert between US and Saudi forces.

The previously undisclosed jets, sent as a show of force, were the latest example of the strength and importance of the partnership, which the administration said it was now reassessing.

“There will be consequences for what they do,” President Biden said last month after a meeting of the Saudi-led OPEC Plus energy cartel agreed to cut production by 2 million barrels a day.

The White House says the cuts will only raise prices and benefit cartel member Russia at a time when the United States and its allies are trying to strangle Moscow’s oil revenues to ease the war in Ukraine.

In the furious days that followed, Saudi Arabia publicly protested that the administration wanted to delay the cuts by a month, indirectly suggesting that Biden wanted to avoid raising gas pump prices ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Saudis have tried to turn U.S. concerns about Ukraine and global energy stability into domestic political ploys to criticize Russia’s war-mongering.

Many lawmakers, who have long advocated cutting ties with Saudi Arabia, reacted with even more dismay, calling for the immediate withdrawal of thousands of US troops stationed in the kingdom and an end to arms sales.

But the White House is mulling how to deliver on Biden’s “consequences” pledge, and while anger remains, his sharp response was disappointed by the reaction it provoked at home. Instead of moving quickly to retaliate, it is looking for ways to bring Saudi Arabia back into line while maintaining a strong bilateral security relationship.

“Are we cutting ties? No,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity about the 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.

Oil and Saudi Arabia’s influence on the global market are second only to US strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, where the kingdom plays a key role in countering Iranian aggression. The White House, which recently confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Iran’s threat and high-level warning, declined to comment on the launch of the US warplanes.

“Centcom is committed to its long-standing strategic military partnership with Saudi Arabia,” said command spokesman Joe Buccio. “We will not discuss operational details.” The U.S. maintains significant air assets in the region, including F-22 fighter jets in Saudi Arabia, but it is unclear where they landed.

Now, only about 6 percent of US oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. China is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and trade relations with Russia are expanding. But security and intelligence ties are the backbone of the US-Saudi relationship, and defense officials in Washington are not sure what the current turmoil means.

Recent years include the Saudi-led war in Yemen and human rights concerns, including the 2018 killing of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, which ended major U.S. military operations in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and tensions between the two sides have risen repeatedly in recent years. coming out. , resident of the United States, columnist for The Washington Post.

There are now about 2,500 US forces in Saudi Arabia, most of them involved in high-tech intelligence work and training. The United States supplies nearly three-quarters of all weapons systems to the Saudi Arabian armed forces, including parts, repairs, and upgrades that are in constant need.

In recent years, the issue of military sales to the kingdom has repeatedly been controversial, with many opposing it in Congress. President Donald Trump, who boasted of billions in US sales to Saudi Arabia, vetoed congressional efforts to block certain transactions, while Biden banned the kingdom from buying US offensive weapons shortly after taking office.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has made two major purchases of air-to-air missiles and replacement Patriot air defense batteries. Another order for 300 Patriot missiles, costing more than $3 million a unit, was approved by the State Department in August after Biden visited the kingdom, where he said he had secured an agreement with the crown prince not to cut oil production.

Although Congress has not formally vetoed the new sale during the 30-day period, the next step in the transaction, an agreement with the Department of Defense, has not been made public. The Pentagon has “nothing to announce at this time” about the trade, spokesman Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago said Friday.

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Reflecting the current furor in Congress, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said last month that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted and the Patriot systems there should be destroyed and sent to Ukraine. “If Saudi Arabia is not willing to side with Ukraine and the United States on the side of Russia, why should we keep these patriots in Saudi Arabia when Ukraine and our NATO allies need them?” Murphy tweeted.

Two U.S.-controlled Patriot systems remain in Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. personnel from Yemen’s Houthi rebels and possibly missile attacks from Iran, but most of the systems used there were purchased by the Saudis years ago and belong to the kingdom.

Biden has said he wants to consult with lawmakers about the promised “consequences,” and while strong statements from lawmakers back up his threats, the current congressional recess is giving the administration some breathing room.

The strongest opposition to business as usual with the kingdom came from the Democrats. Rep. Ro Hanna (Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) introduced a bill last month that would freeze all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it reconsiders oil production cuts. “The Saudis need to come to their senses,” Blumenthal said in announcing the measure. “Cutting oil like this helps the Russians and hurts the Americans.” A separate bill by a trio of Democratic House members led by Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ) would require the withdrawal of US troops 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 declaring that the United States must “immediately freeze cooperation with Saudi Arabia.” “We will not give the green light to any cooperation with Riyadh until Ukraine re-evaluates its position on the war.”

Most Republicans who have spoken out on the issue say Biden should use the cuts to increase domestic oil production, but the U.S. is pumping 1 million barrels a day more than when Biden took office.

So far, the administration has not given any indication of what punitive measures it might take during the communications review, and is in no rush to make a decision. “We’re in no rush,” Kirby said last week. Meanwhile, officials point to steps the Saudis have taken to assuage U.S. anger and prove they are not targeting Russia.

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“Our displeasure has already been made clear and has already had an impact,” a senior official said. “We’ve seen the Saudis respond in a constructive way.”

In addition to Saudi Arabia’s support for last month’s UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine, the kingdom’s de facto ruler and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called President Volodymyr Zelensky and said Saudi Arabia would donate $400 million. . Humanitarian aid to Ukraine is significantly more than the $10 million donated in the previous April.

Saudi Arabia actively supports the recent truce in Yemen promoted by the Biden administration. After years of U.S. efforts to persuade Gulf states to adopt a regional missile defense system against Iran, after long opposition from the Saudis, the government is believed to be finally making progress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was not enough. In an interview with Bloomberg News last week, he called the U.N. vote and Ukraine’s donation “positive progress,” but “it doesn’t make up for it.” [for] Decisions on OPEC Plus Production”.

But as time passes, the chances of Saudi Arabia getting things right and softening any US response will increase. One key indicator will emerge next month, when the European Union bans seaborne imports of Russian crude, followed by a ban on all Russian oil products two months later, and the U.S. plans to impose a price cap. Russian oil.

Officials believe that any market shortfall that these measures may cause could be offset by increased Saudi production. Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salma told an investor conference in Riyadh last week that this was his plan all along.

The Saudis have repeatedly proven that their only interest is to ensure the stability of the world market. Cutting production now will create spare capacity to offset sanctions against Russia without causing a major global shortage, the minister said.

“You have to create a situation where something happens [get] At worst, he has the ability to answer you,” he said. “We’re going to be a supplier to people who want to supply.”

Abdulaziz said the Saudis “decided to be more mature guys” as opposed to those “who are urgently depleting their resources as a mechanism to manipulate the market”. Biden withdrew about a third of the U.S. strategic oil reserves this year in an effort to keep gas prices affordable for Americans struggling with high inflation and interest rates.


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