The United States and Saudi Arabia on Thursday traded barbs over last week’s OPEC+ oil production cut, with Washington accusing Riyadh of knowingly boosting Russia’s interests.
The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel – which includes Russia – angered the White House by cutting production by two million barrels a day from November and stoking fears that oil prices would skyrocket.
Saudi Arabia issued a rare press release on Thursday, dismissing accusations that it was “taking sides in international conflicts” as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on.
But US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby quickly fired back, saying Saudi Arabia knew the cut would “increase Russian revenue and weaken the effectiveness of sanctions.” This is the wrong direction.”
The United States has vowed to reevaluate ties with the oil-rich kingdom since the cut, which was widely seen as a diplomatic slap in the face for Washington.
President Joe Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in July and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – with the two greeting each other with a high-profile fist bump.
Biden previously vowed to make the country an international “pariah” following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The Saudi Foreign Ministry may try to twist or distract, but the facts are simple. The world stands behind Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” Kirby said in an unusually strong statement.
Other OPEC+ nations “felt compelled to support Saudi direction,” he added.
The oil cut comes at a sensitive time for Biden as the Democratic Party faces a difficult midterm election in November, with rising consumer prices a top concern for voters.
– Oil funds are the key to the Russian war –
In its press release, Saudi Arabia defends itself against “non-factual statements that are based on presenting the OPEC+ decision out of its economic context”.
The kingdom insisted that OPEC+ decisions would be made “on purely economic grounds”.
And it suggested that Biden’s administration had asked the cartel to delay any cuts until after the US midterm vote.
Biden has promised Saudi Arabia “consequences” but gave no further details.
President Vladimir Putin is relying on high oil prices to fund Russia’s stalled invasion of Ukraine, and some US lawmakers have urged Washington to end all cooperation with Riyadh.
“We wanted to know that the Saudis would vote for us when it mattered when it came to a global crisis,” Senator Bob Menendez said this week. “Well, they didn’t. They chose Russia.”
The partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia was sealed after World War II, offering the kingdom military protection in exchange for American access to oil.
Troubled ties were revived by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, whose only term in office accounted for a quarter of US arms exports to Riyadh, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The United States continued the rapprochement, announcing in August that Saudi Arabia would purchase 300 Patriot MIM-104E missile systems that can be used to shoot down long-range invading ballistic and cruise missiles and attack aircraft.
Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemeni government, has faced missile threats from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been supplied with Iranian equipment and technology.