A bump and a miss: Saudi oil cut slaps down Biden’s outreach

Oct 6, 2022, 2:40 PM | Updated: Oct 7, 2022, 3:16 pm
FILE - In this image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ri...

FILE - In this image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

(Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday effectively acknowledged the failure of one of his biggest and most humiliating foreign policy gambles: a fist-bump with the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince associated with human rights abuses.

Biden’s awkward encounter with Mohammed bin Salman in July was a humbling attempt to mend relations with the world’s most influential oil power at a time when the US. was seeking its help in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting surge in oil prices.

That fist bump three months ago was followed by a face slap this week from Prince Mohammed: a big oil production cut by OPEC producers and Russia that threatens to sustain oil-producer Russia in its war in Ukraine, drive inflation higher, and push gas prices back toward voter-angering levels just before U.S. midterms, undercutting the election prospects of Biden and Democrats.

Asked about Saudi Arabia’s action, Biden told reporters Thursday it was “a disappointment, and it says that there are problems” in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

A number of Democrats in Congress called on the U.S. Thursday to respond by pulling back on its decades-old provision of arms and U.S. military protection for Saudi Arabia, charging that Prince Mohammed had stopped upholding Saudi Arabia’s side of a more than 70-year strategic partnership. The relationship is based on the U.S. providing the kingdom with protection against its outside enemies, and on Saudi Arabia providing global markets with enough oil to keep them stable.

Calling the oil production cuts “a hostile act,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski led two other lawmakers in introducing legislation that would pull U.S. troops and Patriot missile batteries out of the kingdom.

“What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, adding, “We are looking at all the legislative tools to best deal with this appalling and deeply cynical action.”

The U.S. has no plans at the moment to withdraw military personnel or equipment from Saudi Arabia, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Thursday.

Congress and the administration were reacting to the announcement of a bigger than expected cut of 2 million barrels a day by the OPEC-plus group, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. The production cut is likely to drive up prices, bolstering the oil revenue Russia is using to keep waging its war in Ukraine despite U.S.-led international sanctions and further shaking a global economy already struggling with short energy supply.

Saudi oil minister Abdulaziz bin Salman, a half-brother of the crown prince, insisted at the OPEC-plus session there was no “belligerence” in the action.

The administration says it’s looking for ways to blunt the impact of OPEC’s decision, and notes that the cost at the pump has still dropped in recent months.

Foreign arms sales ultimately are Congress’s to approve or disapprove, a U.S. official argued Thursday, so it was up to lawmakers to choose whether to try to make good on cutting U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s take on the matter.

The official called Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, and meetings with Middle East leaders there, steps toward building relations across the region, and said Biden’s meeting with the crown prince was in line with other face-to-face sessions with allies, rivals and adversaries, including Putin.

As a candidate, Biden had made a passionate promise to make the Saudi royal family a “pariah” over human rights abuses, especially Saudi officials’ killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

The U.S. intelligence community formally concluded that Prince Mohammed, who wields much of the power in Saudi Arabia in the stead of his aging father, King Salman, had ordered or approved of Khashoggi’s killing.

Biden as president disappointed rights activists when he opted not to penalize Prince Mohammed directly, citing his senior position in the kingdom and the U.S. strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Then Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine worsened an already tight global oil market, driving up gasoline prices and inflation overall. Ally Israel and some in the administration argued that smooth relations between Riyadh and Washington had to be the U.S. priority.

As U.S. prices at the pump rose and Biden’s poll ratings fell further, senior administration officials began shuttling to the Gulf, seeking to soothe Prince Mohammed’s anger at Biden’s campaign remarks and the U.S. findings in Khashoggi’s killing. That led to Biden paying his first visit as president to Saudi Arabia in July, putting presidential prestige behind the attempt to get U.S.-Saudi relations, and the global oil supply, back on steadier ground.

In Jeddah, Biden stopped short of offering a much-anticipated handshake. Instead, Biden, looking frailer and more stooped in comparison with Prince Mohammed, who is in his late 30s, leaned in to offer an out-of-character fist bump. Prince Mohammed reciprocated. Any smiles on the two men’s faces as their knuckles touched were fleeting.

Critics deplored Biden’s outreach to a prince accused of ordering the imprisonment, abduction, torture and killing of those, even fellow royals and family members, who oppose him or express differing views.

Even if “you’re not willing to use the sticks with MBS, then don’t give up the carrots for free,” Khalid al Jabri, the son of a former Saudi minister of state, Saad al Jabri, said Thursday, using the prince’s initials.

The senior al Jabri accuses Prince Mohammed of sending a hit squad after him in 2018, and of detaining two of his children to try to force his return. Prince Mohammed denies any direct wrongdoing, although he says as a Saudi leader he accepts responsibility for events on his watch.

Khalid al Jabri, who like his father now lives in exile, offered an argument echoed by rights advocates, Democratic lawmakers and others:

“That is one major flaw of the Biden policy so far, that in this kind of U.S.-Saudi rapprochement, it has been lopsided, it’s been one-way concessions. And that doesn’t work for MBS.”

Saudi Arabia has made a couple of moves that benefited the U.S. since Biden’s visit. Saudi Arabia was among the intermediaries who recently won the release of two Americans and other foreigners captured by Russia as they fought for Ukraine. And OPEC-plus made a modest increase in oil output shortly after the visit. The U.S. official cited Saudi Arabia’s agreement to allow Israeli civilian overflights of Saudi territory as one gain from Biden’s trip.

The subsequent oil production cuts have far offset the earlier gains, however. Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials also have kept up outwardly warm dealings with Russian officials. And rights advocates point to a series of multidecade prison terms handed down to Saudi men and women over the mildest of free speech, especially tweets, since Biden’s visit.

By November, the Biden administration will have to decide whether to make another major concession to the prince. A U.S. court set that deadline for the U.S. to determine whether it will weigh in to agree or disagree with Prince Mohammed’s lawyer that the prince has legal immunity from a lawsuit in U.S. federal court over the killing of Khashoggi.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be out of Washington until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections and when they return will be focused on funding federal agencies for the full fiscal year through September 2023. Prospects for a lame-duck Congress taking up the bill introduced by Malinowski and the two other lawmakers are slight.

Rising gas prices would be bad news for Democrats heading into the final stretch of the midterm elections, while Republicans remain eager to capitalize on the decades-high inflation and rising cost of living, with high gas prices a constant reminder as voters fill up their tanks.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, had one of the more scathing reactions to OPEC’s announcement.

“From unanswered questions about 9/11 & the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, to conspiring w/ Putin to punish the US w/ higher oil prices, the royal Saudi family has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation. It’s time for our foreign policy to imagine a world without their alliance,” he tweeted Thursday.

—-

AP writers Jill Colvin in New York City and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduces the B-21 Raider stealth at Northrop Grumman Friday, De...
Associated Press

Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it. This past week more than 20 Republican governors sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Family says coyote attacked toddler outside LA home

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A coyote ambushed and injured a 2-year old girl outside her Los Angeles home in a daytime attack before her father chased the animal off, her family said. Home security video obtained by KTLA-TV shows the animal grab and drag the toddler across her lawn and sidewalk, just seconds after her […]
20 hours ago
FILE -  Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz, speaks during a press conference at the American University of Beir...
Associated Press

Longtime Arizona GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe dies at 80

PHOENIX (AP) — Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman who represented a heavily Democratic region of Arizona for more than two decades and was a proponent of gay rights, has died. He was 80. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement that Kolbe died Saturday. Ducey ordered flags lowered until sunset Sunday. Kolbe served in […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Fan buying famed ‘Goonies’ house in Oregon, listed for $1.7M

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The listing agent for the Victorian home featured in the “The Goonies” film in Astoria, Oregon, said this week the likely new owner is a fan of the classic coming-of-age movie about friendships and treasure hunting, and he promises to preserve and protect the landmark. The 1896 home with sweeping views […]
20 hours ago
New Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna is sworn in by the Honorable Samantha Jersey, Presiding ...
Associated Press

New LA sheriff vows accountability, integrity for department

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The new head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department vowed Saturday to usher in an era of integrity and collaboration after his predecessor’s tenure was marked by clashes with other public officials and allegations that ganglike groups of deputies ran amok within the agency. Robert Luna took an oath of office […]
20 hours ago
A a fan waits for the start of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and t...
Associated Press

American fans captivated by US team’s World Cup run

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — The bald man came dressed head-to-toe in full American spirit. A red, white and blue bandana, stars and stripes mismatched socks, shorts that might have been swimming trunks suited for a summer barbeque. Philip Labas wore an outfit bursting with pride for the United States men’s soccer team Saturday as […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
A bump and a miss: Saudi oil cut slaps down Biden’s outreach