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

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Despite the backlash and threats of retaliation over Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to cut oil production amid global shortages, the Biden administration is looking for signs that the decades-long security relationship between Washington and Riyadh has been salvaged. can go.

These ties, and the commitment to help protect its strategic partners — especially against Iran — are an integral part of U.S. defense in the Middle East. When recent intelligence reports warned of imminent Iranian ballistic missile and drone strikes on targets in Saudi Arabia, US Central Command placed US and Saudi forces in the Persian Gulf as part of an overall alert status. Warplanes located in the area were dispatched to Iran.

The jet strike, billed as an armed show of force and not previously reported, was the latest example of the strength and importance of a partnership that the administration said it was now reevaluating.

At last month’s meeting of the OPEC Plus energy cartel, which he chaired, the Saudis agreed to cut production by 2 million barrels per day. There will be some results.

The cuts only serve to drive up prices, the White House charged, and cartel member Russia will benefit when the U.S. and its allies use Moscow’s oil revenue to ease its war in Ukraine. They were trying to stop.

In the angry days that followed, the Saudis responded publicly to the administration’s request to delay the cuts by a month, indirectly suggesting that Biden was gassing ahead of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Want to avoid rising prices at the pump? John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that the Saudis were trying to turn U.S. concerns about Ukraine and global energy stability into a domestic political ploy and deflect criticism of Russia’s war-mongering.

Many lawmakers, some of whom have long advocated severing ties with the Saudis, expressed even greater anger at the immediate withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the kingdom and other punitive measures. Demanded to stop arms sales.

But the White House, as it considers improving Biden’s “results” pledge and his ongoing anger, has grown nervous about the backlash at home. Instead of moving quickly to respond, it is playing for time, finding ways to bring back the Saudis while maintaining strong bilateral security ties.

“Are we severing the relationship? No,” said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity about what has become a sensitive political and diplomatic situation. “We had a fundamental disagreement over the state of the oil market and the global economy, and we’re reviewing what happened.”

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“But we have vital interests at stake in this relationship,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia’s influence over oil and global markets is second only to US strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, where the kingdom plays a central role in countering Iranian aggression. The White House, which confirmed a Wall Street Journal report about the recent Iranian threat and high alert, declined to comment on the launch of the US warplanes.

“CENTCOM remains committed to our long-standing strategic military partnership with Saudi Arabia,” said command spokesman Joe Boccio. “We will not discuss operational details.” The US maintains significant air assets in the region, including F-22 fighter jets in Saudi Arabia, although it was unclear where they were flown from.

Only 6 percent of US oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. China is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and trade relations with Russia have expanded. But security and intelligence ties are a cornerstone of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and defense officials in Washington are worried about what the current upheaval could mean.

Major U.S. deployments to Iraq ended after the 2003 invasion, and bilateral tensions have flared up repeatedly in recent years, over human rights concerns over the Saudi-led war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi. 2018 murders by agents included. , an American resident and Washington Post columnist.

There are currently about 2,500 US forces in Saudi Arabia, many of whom are involved in high-tech intelligence work and training. The United States is the supplier of nearly three-quarters of the weapons systems in use by the Saudi military, including parts, repairs, and upgrades that are constantly needed.

Military sales to the kingdom have repeatedly been controversial in recent years, with many in Congress objecting to them. While President Donald Trump, who has boasted billions in potential U.S. sales to the Saudis, has specifically vetoed congressional efforts to block the transaction, Biden has pushed for aggressive U.S. weapons by the kingdom shortly after taking office. Banning the purchase of

Since then, Saudi Arabia has made two major purchases, air-to-air missiles, and replacement missiles for Patriot air defense batteries. Another order for 300 Patriot missiles — more than $3 million per unit — was approved by the State Department in August after Biden visited the kingdom, where he reportedly exchanged oil with the crown prince. What was the agreement not to reduce production?

Although Congress did not formally object to the new sale within the allotted 30-day window, there has been no public indication that the next step in the transaction – a signed contract with the Defense Department – ​​has been taken. The Pentagon has “nothing to announce at this time” regarding the sale, spokesman Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago said Friday.

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Reflecting the current level of congressional anger, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said last month that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted, and that the Patriot system should be removed and sent to Ukraine. Should. “If Saudi Arabia is not willing to support Ukraine and America over Russia, why should we keep these patriotic people in Saudi Arabia when Ukraine and our NATO allies need them?” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

While two U.S.-controlled Patriot systems are in Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. personnel from Yemen’s Houthi rebels and possibly Iranian missile attacks, the bulk of the systems used there were purchased by the Saudis years ago and belong to the United States. From the state.

Biden has said he wants to consult with lawmakers about the promised “consequences” and while tough statements from lawmakers reinforce his threat, the current congressional recess also gives the administration some breathing room. she does.

The strongest objection to business as usual with the monarchy has come from Democrats. Rep. Rowe Khanna (Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) last month introduced a bill to freeze all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it reconsiders oil production cuts. Blumenthal announced the move, saying the Saudis need to wake up. The only clear purpose of this cut in oil supply is to help the Russians and hurt 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 saying “the United States should immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, ” and vowed that he “would not greenlight any cooperation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassessed its position on the war in Ukraine.

Most Republicans who have taken a stand on the issue have said that Biden should use the cuts as an opportunity to increase domestic oil production, even though the United States already pumps about a million barrels a day since Biden took office. doing.

So far, the administration has given no clue as to what, if any, punitive measures it might consider during its review of the relationship, and there appears to be no rush to make a decision. “We don’t need to rush,” Kirby said last week. Meanwhile, officials have emphasized steps they say the Saudis have taken to ease American anger and demonstrate they are not leaning toward Russia.

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“Our displeasure has already been clearly expressed and has had an impact,” the senior official said. “We have seen that the Saudis have reacted constructively.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the country’s de facto ruler, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, after Saudi Arabia voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution last month condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine. And said that Saudi Arabia will give 400 million dollars in aid. in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, up from its previous donation of $10 million in April.

The Saudis are actively supporting the recent ceasefire in Yemen that the Biden administration has supported. And after U.S. efforts to persuade Gulf states to adopt a regional missile defense system against Iran, long resisted by the Saudis, the administration believes it is finally moving forward.

Secretary of State Antony Blanken has indicated that this is not yet enough. Speaking to Bloomberg News last week, he called the U.N. vote and Ukraine donation “positive developments,” though “they don’t pay.” [for] OPEC Plus decision on production.

But the more time that passes, the more likely Saudi Arabia will be to straighten things out and minimize any U.S. response. A key signal is likely to come next month, when the European Union imposes a ban on seaborne imports of Russian crude oil – followed by a ban on all Russian petroleum products two months later – and the U.S. imposes a price cap. There is a plan to implement. Russian oil.

Officials believe that any shortfall in the market caused by these measures could be offset by increased production from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salma said in remarks at an investor conference in Riyadh last week that this is his country’s plan.

The Saudis have repeatedly insisted that their only interest is in the stability of the world market. The minister said the production cut now would create additional capacity to meet the sanctions imposed on Russia, without creating major global shortages.

“You have to make sure you create a situation where things [get] Even worse you have the ability to respond, he said. “We will be suppliers to those who want to supply us.”

Abdulaziz said the Saudis had “decided to be mature,” as opposed to those who were “depleting their emergency stocks … as a mechanism to manipulate the markets.” Biden has withdrawn about a third of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve this year, in an effort to keep gas prices within reach for Americans already struggling with high inflation and interest rates.



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