Saudi Arabia ‘duped’ Washington on secret oil deal – media
President Joe Biden reportedly made his controversial July visit to Saudi Arabia, breaking a campaign promise to shun the kingdom, because his administration thought it had secured a secret deal for Riyadh to boost oil supplies. Instead, Riyadh did the opposite, leading OPEC in cutting output targets.
The production increase was supposed to come from September through the end of this year, helping to ease inflation and justify Biden’s trip to Riyadh, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing interviews with unidentified US and Middle East government officials. Earlier this month, OPEC announced plans to cut production by two million barrels a day, creating more upward pressure on prices and potentially increasing the risk that the Biden-led Democratic Party will lose control of Congress in November’s US midterm elections.
Several US lawmakers responded by suggesting that Washington should punish Saudi Arabia by cutting off arms sales or removing its military support for the kingdom. Biden accused Riyadh of siding with Russia in the Ukraine conflict and warned of retribution, saying, “There will be consequences.”
Members of Congress who had received classified briefings about the secret oil deal “have been left fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration,” the Times said. US officials told the newspaper that even days before the OPEC announcement, they had been assured by bin Salman that there would be no output cuts. When they later heard that Saudi Arabia had reversed its position on the issue, administration officials made a failed effort to “change minds in the royal court.”
Saudi officials said earlier this month that OPEC’s decision was based solely on economic considerations, not politics, and that Washington tried to delay the move for several weeks. Such a delay might have pushed the announcement past November 8, the date of the midterms. US inflation remains near a 40-year high and ranks as the top concern of American voters, according to polling.
Biden said while campaigning for president in 2019 that he would treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” and would make them “pay the price” for the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Times said that even some of his strongest supporters have argued that Biden’s decision to meet with bin Salman anyway, after his administration thought it had a secret oil deal in May, was the latest example of “sacrificing principles for political expediency – and having little to show for it.”
“There’s now a level of embarrassment as the Saudis merrily go on their way,” said US Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.
Biden publicly denied in June that he would ask Saudi officials to boost oil supplies. “What happened over the last half-year is a story of handshake agreements, wishful thinking, missed signals and finger-pointing over broken promises,” the Times said.