Will Saudi Oil Power Play Break Ties with the US? 

Neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia is backing down in the ongoing row over oil, putting severe strain on their countries’ energy-for-security alliance. 

Tensions escalated even higher when the White House made an unprecedented move to publicly dispute Saudi Arabia’s defense for the decision with OPEC+ to cut oil production. 

It marked a shift in long-standing relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. 

When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as the OPEC+ oil group, decided to cut output even after the Biden administration requested otherwise, experts say the group risked harming, even severing, ties with the United States. 

The decision to cut oil output drove up the price of oil. Several big senators called on the White House to freeze all cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, following the OPEC+ decision. This week, Biden vowed consequences for the United States’ ties with Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement that the country “rejects any dictates,” and said the oil group had made the decision in order to “protect the global economy from oil market volatility.”

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, accused the Saudis of trying to “spin or deflect” but the facts were simple. He said that other nations in the oil group told the U.S. privately they “felt coerced to support Saudi’s direction.”

Kirby said the Saudis conveyed to U.S. officials in recent weeks that they wanted to reduce oil production, and they knew it would increase Russian revenues. 

“The bottom line is we don’t want to see any nation helping Russia prosecute this war, whether that’s moral support, military support, or economic support, and the decision that OPEC+ came out with this week was certainly economic support. And I would argue it also fell into the category of moral and military support,” said Kirby.

The ongoing rift is widening between the nations. Gulf analysts remain optimistic, however, over U.S.-Saudi ties. 

Despite the testy exchanges, both sides face constraints in how to pressure each other in practice, Gulf analysts and experts believe, saying that Washington will not want to do anything to risk the security of the kingdom’s oil sector, as any damage to which would send prices spiraling even higher and possibly drive Riyadh closer to China and Russia.

Analysts also said that Riyadh is aware it cannot easily diversify arms supplies for its military, which has been overwhelmingly equipped and trained by the U.S. ever since their relationship was established in 1945.

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