US President Joe Biden is re-evaluating America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia after the Opec+ decision last week to cut oil production, a top White House adviser said on Tuesday, as tensions between Washington and Riyadh continue to rise.
“I think the president’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to re-evaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit, and certainly in light of the Opec decision, I think that’s where he is,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s senior communications adviser, told CNN on Tuesday.
Kirby’s comments come after senior Democrats on Capitol Hill have been calling on both the White House and Congress to take a much tougher stance on Saudi Arabia in light of the production cuts, which were announced just four weeks before the US midterm elections, threatening a new surge in oil prices.
Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, called for a freeze in co-operation with Saudi Arabia, possibly including a halt to weapons sales to the kingdom.
“I will not greenlight any co-operation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough,” Menendez said.
Other lawmakers, including top Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, are calling on Congress to approve “Nopec” legislation, which would empower the justice department to bring price-fixing cases against oil cartels, stripping them of sovereign immunity.
Kirby said Biden was “willing to work with Congress” on punitive steps against Saudi Arabia and that those talks would start immediately.
“I don’t think this is anything that’s going to have to wait, or should wait, quite frankly, for much longer,” he added.
Biden had already vowed to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship early in his White House term after promising to make Riyadh a “pariah” during the 2020 presidential campaign amid anger at the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But after petrol prices rose sharply this year, driven by the war in Ukraine, US officials sought to patch up ties with Saudi Arabia. In July, Biden visited the kingdom, greeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump.
Last week’s production cuts were seen as a major blow to the relationship in Washington, however. Biden branded them “shortsighted” as soon as they were announced, while Janet Yellen, the US Treasury secretary, told the FT they were “unhelpful and unwise” in an interview ahead of this week’s IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Washington.