Biden reassesses US relationship with Saudis after OPEC decision

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden is launching a review of U.S.-Saudi relations after OPEC+ announced last week it would cut oil output despite U.S. objections, officials announced on Tuesday.

The announcement came a day after powerful Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States must immediately freeze all aspects of American cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including arms sales.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said a review would be forthcoming, but gave no timeline for action or information on who would lead the reassessment. The United States will be monitoring the situation closely “over the coming weeks and months,” she said.

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OPEC+ announced plans for an oil production cut last week after weeks of lobbying against one by US officials. The United States has accused Saudi Arabia of bowing to Russia, which opposes a Western cap on the price of Russian oil boosted by the invasion of Ukraine.

American officials had been try quietly to persuade its biggest Arab partner to reject the idea of ​​a production cut, but Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was unswayed.

Bin Salman and Biden had clashed during Biden’s visit to Jeddah in July over the 2018 death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a source familiar with the matter.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office after landing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 10, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

US intelligence claims the crown prince approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi, a Saudi insider turned critic, who was murdered and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The prince, son of King Salman, 86, denied ordering the killing but admitted it had taken place “under my watch”. Biden said in july he told the prince that he thought he was responsible.

John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said Biden would work with Congress “to consider what this relationship should look like going forward.”

“And I think he’ll be ready to start having those conversations right away. I don’t think it’s something that will have to wait or should wait, quite frankly, much longer,” Kirby added.

State Department spokesman Ned Price also said Tuesday that the Biden administration would not overlook Iran, a U.S. adversary and bitter regional rival of Saudi Arabia, in the review. Read more

Much of the US arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been made with the Iranian threat in the region in mind.

“There are security issues, some of which emanate from Iran. We certainly will not overlook the threat that Iran poses not only to the region, but in some ways beyond it,” Price said.

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Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Porter, Heather Timmons and Deepa Babington

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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