Saudi feud leaves the U.S. asking if relations are beyond repair

(Bloomberg) — An escalating public dispute over oil between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia risks causing irreparable harm to U.S. relations with the crucial Mideast partner, according to current and former government officials briefed on the feud.

Dueling statements from Washington and Riyadh in recent days over last week’s OPEC+ decision to cut production underscore just how badly the U.S.-Saudi relationship has deteriorated under President Joe Biden, with each side accusing the other of acting in bad faith.

Saudi Arabia said the cuts were an attempt to ease market volatility, underscoring that relations with the U.S. must be built on trust. A White House statement on Thursday sneered what it called Saudi Arabia’s attempt to “spin or deflect.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden’s warnings that the decision would have “consequences.”

The remarkably public contretemps reflects brewing impatience within the White House now that it has little to show for Biden’s outreach to the Saudis — which he was compelled to make as gasoline prices soared over the summer, despite his campaign promise to treat Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “pariah.”

That frustration is shared by the Saudis. One Gulf official said there’s a real sense of grievance that the US didn’t help Saudi Arabia during periods of low oil prices but is asking for its help now that it wants to keep prices from rising ahead of next month’s US midterm elections and amid the struggle to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of oil revenue.

Another official in the Gulf region insisted that despite the US complaint that Saudi Arabia is helping Russia in its war on Ukraine, the oil production cut really is aimed at balancing supply and demand — and serving their own economies without causing international harm.

The two sides now appear to fundamentally misunderstand each other, according to current and former officials in the US and in the Gulf, several of whom requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. One person familiar with the dispute said there was dismay that the White House had responded with such anger, suggesting the US should have taken the high road.

‘Unrecoverable’ Relationship

“They’ve once again personalized the problem, which will lead to another humiliating climbdown when they need something from Saudi Arabia,” Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the US position. “They’d have been smarter to have pointed out that Saudi Arabia frequently refuses US requests to use oil as a policy tool, when the Saudi economy is wholly reliant on it and has an overriding interest in price stability.”

“The relationship is likely unrecoverable,” Schake said.

Source: Worldoil

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