Saudi Arabia pushes back at US outrage over oil cuts
By Ben Hubbard
Saudi Arabia pushed back Thursday against U.S. threats to punish the kingdom for agreeing with Russia and other oil-producing countries to cut output, saying the decision last week was based purely on economic reasons.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry, in an unusual statement, said that the Biden administration had urged the kingdom to delay the production cuts for one month. Such a delay could have prevented price hikes at the gas pumps that might harm Democratic candidates in the U.S. midterm elections Nov. 8.
But the Saudis said that they had disregarded the U.S. request because they feared that such a delay “would have had negative economic consequences.”
The statement was the latest evidence that the dispute over oil production was ratcheting up tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia, whose relationship has already been strained by disagreements over how to treat President Vladimir Putin of Russia after his invasion of Ukraine, American concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and Saudi worries that Washington had given up its commitment to the kingdom’s security.
After the cartel of oil-producing countries known as OPEC+ announced an output cut of 2 million barrels per day last week, President Joe Biden vowed that there would be “consequences” for the kingdom, without defining what they might be.
Some members of Congress went further, accusing the Saudis of siding with Putin, who also benefits from higher oil prices, and discussing legislation that would cut arms sales to Saudi Arabia or allow lawsuits against OPEC+ members for price-fixing.
The Saudi statement Thursday appeared to be an attempt to tamp down the tensions, stating the kingdom’s “total rejection” of the idea that it was playing politics with its oil. Such thinking, the statement said, portrayed the decision “out of its purely economic context.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry praised the relationship with the United States as “a strategic one that serves the common interests of both countries.”
The statement went on to say that “any attempts to distort the facts about the kingdom’s position regarding the crisis in Ukraine are unfortunate,” an apparent reference to the accusation that it was siding with Russia. It underscored this point by referring to Saudi votes on United Nations resolutions related to the war.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states voted at the U.N. on Wednesday to condemn Russia’s annexation of four eastern Ukrainian territories, backing a resolution that demanded Moscow reverse course.