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October 13, 2022 4:09 pm

Biden Administration Hits Back Against Saudi Defense of Oil Cuts

avatar by Andrew Bernard

US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrive for the family photo during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit (GCC+3) at a hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 16, 2022. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS

Following President Biden’s statement Tuesday that the United States must “rethink” its relationship with Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials took the unusual step Wednesday evening of trying to explain why OPEC+ had reduced its oil production quota by 2 million barrels per day.

“The Kingdom affirms that the outcomes of the OPEC+ meetings are adopted through consensus among member states and that they are not based on the unilateral decision by a single country,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement said. “These outcomes are based purely on economic considerations that take into account maintaining balance of supply and demand in the oil markets, as well as to limit volatility that does not serve the interests of consumers and producers, as has always been the case within OPEC+.”

Responding to the Saudi statement on Thursday, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that the oil production cut was economically unsound and that the reductions have the effect of bolstering Russia in its war against Ukraine.

“The Saudi Foreign Ministry can try to spin or deflect but the facts are simple,” he said. “The world is rallying behind Ukraine in combating Russian aggression. The US has played a key role in assembling this coalition, and has engaged the Saudi leadership in that effort. In recent weeks, the Saudis conveyed to us – privately and publicly – their intention to reduce oil production, which they knew would increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions. That is the wrong direction.”

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State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press conference Wednesday denied that the US request to Saudi Arabia to delay the OPEC+ cuts by a month was related to the timing of the US midterm elections.

This engagement did not take place solely in the context of October ’22 or September 2022,” Price said. “This is engagement that took place over the course of many months, and it took place over the course of many months because we wanted to send a clear and consistent message that energy supply needed to meet energy demand, and especially at this moment, this moment where the global economic recovery is ongoing but has the potential to endure setbacks from the headwinds that we’ve discussed and any additional headwinds that would come from an announcement like this one.”

Following the cuts, House and Senate Democrats have put forward proposals to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and security cooperation “beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests,” according to Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The State Department, however, indicated that the Biden administration was still in the process of determining how its strategic rethink would play out.

“This is a process that will play out over the course of weeks and months,” Price said. “There are a number of proposals, some of which have been floated publicly, some of which have been conveyed privately. We want to make sure that we are familiar with them, that we understand them, we understand the implications of them, and that we have an opportunity to speak with stakeholders on the Hill and elsewhere.”

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