The White House said Tuesday that President Biden believes Saudi Arabia has effectively sided with Russia’s war aims in Ukraine following the Riyadh-led OPEC+ alliance’s announcement last week that it would cut oil production.
“We believe by the decision that OPEC+ made last week, (Saudi Arabia is) certainly aligning themselves with Russia,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a Tuesday briefing. “And right now, this is not the time to be aligning with Russia, especially with this brutal, unprecedented war that they started in Ukraine.”
Jean-Pierre said President Biden was reassessing its relationship with Saudi Arabia, a vital but complicated ally in the Middle East, but offered no timeline for its review.
Biden came into office vowing to recalibrate the U.S. relationship because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record but then paid a visit to the kingdom earlier this year.
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OPEC+, which includes Russia as well as Saudi Arabia, announced last week it would cut production by 2 million barrels a day, which will help prop up oil prices that are allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep paying for his eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
The production cut also hurts U.S.-led efforts to make the war financially unsustainable for Russia, threatens a global economy already destabilized by the Ukraine conflict and risks saddling Biden and Democrats with newly rising gasoline prices just ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.
Biden and European leaders have urged more oil production to ease gasoline prices and punish Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine. Putin has been accused of using energy as a weapon against countries opposing Russia’s invasion.
John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council at the White House, echoed Jean-Pierre comments Tuesday, saying that Biden believes “it’s time to take another look at this relationship and make sure that it’s serving our national security interests.”
“We’re going to take a look at this relationship seriously as well as taking seriously the concerns of members of Congress,” Kirby said at the White House.
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U.S. weapon sales to Riyadh serve as an important counterweight in the region to Iran, which is quickly moving toward becoming a nuclear power.
“There’s 70,000 Americans living in Saudi Arabia right now, not to mention all the other troops we have throughout the region,” Kirby said. “So, it’s not only in our interest that missile defense in the region become more integrated and cooperative. It’s in the interest of our allies and partners in that part of the world as well.”
Still, the pressure is mounting for Biden. As a candidate for the White House, he vowed that Saudi rulers would “pay the price” under his watch for the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s leadership. Biden said that he’d look to make the oil-rich country a “pariah.”
But in July, amid rising prices at the pump around the globe, Biden decided to pay a visit to Saudi Arabia. During the visit, he met with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who he once shunned as a killer for the death of Khashoggi.
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The U.S. intelligence community determined that the crown prince, often referred to by his initials MBS, likely approved the killing of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. MBS denies he was involved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.