Saudi Arabia has suggested that the United States has asked the country to wait a month before shutting down oil production, defending a move heavily criticized by the White House for helping Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Such a slowdown in OPEC+ supply cuts could have prevented price hikes at US pumps until after the midterm elections, although the Saudi Foreign Ministry did not specifically mention the midterm elections in its long and concise statement late Wednesday.
Rising fuel costs are a key driver of inflation, which shows no signs of slowing down, reaching 8.2% in September to remain in the spotlight for many Americans as Democrats hope to maintain their slim majority in Congress.
The White House has opposed any suggestion it was making a politically motivated request, with National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson saying in a statement early Friday that it was “categorically inaccurate to link this to US elections.”
“It was always about the impact on the global economy and the impact on families at home and around the world, especially now that Putin is waging his war against Ukraine,” she added.
It is the latest exchange to highlight a delicate relationship between Washington and Riyadh, with President Joe Biden initially calling the kingdom a “pariah” before traveling to the kingdom this summer to punch Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in a much criticized overture to increase global oil production.
As the de facto head of OPEC+, Saudi Arabia rejected that appeal, with the alliance announcing earlier this week that it would cut global supplies by 2 million barrels. That was heavily criticized by Biden and other Democrats, who saw it as a party to the Kremlin. Russia is a member of OPEC+ and as an oil-exporting giant, it would benefit from rising prices.
Some Democrats suggested that the US re-evaluate its entire relationship with the kingdom, with Biden promising “consequences” for a decision many viewed as a boon to President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia hit back and let go a long, pointed statement in which it rejected suggestions that the austerity was “politically motivated”, saying the decision was made by consensus and was taken to “protect the global economy from oil market volatility”.
It said “attempts to distort the facts” were “unfortunate”.
The kingdom had “clarified through ongoing consultations with the U.S. government that all economic analysis indicates that delaying the OPEC+ decision by a month would have had, according to what has been suggested, negative economic consequences,” the statement added.
The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reported for the first time earlier this week that the US asked for an extension.
“It looks like this isn’t about Russia, it’s about the US midterm elections,” Mohammed Alyahya, a fellow at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative, at Harvard Kennedy School, told NBC News. “The expectation that Saudi Arabia will have to manipulate global energy markets to influence US domestic politics is absurd.”
That link was flatly rejected by the White House, which suggested that some OPEC countries personally oppose the move.
“We have presented economic data to Saudi Arabia so that they can wait and understand the markets before making this short-sighted decision,” said Watson, the spokesman for the National Security Council.
John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said Saudi Arabia was trying to “spin and avert” the issue.
“We presented Saudi Arabia with an analysis to show that there was no market basis to lower production targets, and that they could easily wait until the next OPEC meeting to see how things developed,” he said in a statement. declaration. “Other OPEC countries have personally informed us that they also disagreed with the Saudi decision, but felt compelled to support Saudi Arabia’s direction.”
Like many Western governments, Washington has long sought a balance between reliance on Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest oil producer, and holding human rights accountable.
Bin Salman’s supporters say he has modernized the kingdom, diversified its reliance on fossil fuel exports, allowed women to drive and opened movie theaters for the first time in decades. But human rights groups say the country has entrenched its position as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, a ruthless theocracy that suppresses political dissent, women and the LGBTQ+ community.
In addition, MBS, as he is known, has sought to polish his kingdom’s image abroad by investing in and hosting Western sports and entertainment, while trying diplomatic overtures such as his hosting of Biden this summer.
The Saudis say the decision to cut oil supply was about stabilizing the global market, but the US sees it as OPEC+ effectively siding with Russia. As the Kremlin suffers heavy losses in troops and territory, it is accused of using energy as a weapon against Europe – which has long relied on Moscow’s fossil fuels – and the rest of the world, which faces inflation that is partly caused by the war.