WSJ: UAE and Saudi deny visit to Biden, say they want more from US first
According to the Wall Street Journal tonight, officials from the UAE and Saudi Arabia have both declined a visit from the Biden Administration, preferring to hold out their oil for self-interested demands, like immunity for crown prince Muhammed bin Salman, who is tied to the murder and dismemberment of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Some would call this good old fashioned geopolitics. Others would call it extortion. Others may call it Washington getting what it paid for.
The Saudis have signaled that their relationship with Washington has deteriorated under the Biden administration, and they want more support for their intervention in Yemen’s civil war, help with their own civilian nuclear program as Iran’s moves ahead, and legal immunity for Prince Mohammed in the U.S., Saudi officials said. The crown prince faces multiple lawsuits in the U.S., including over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The Emiratis share Saudi concerns about the restrained U.S. response to recent missile strikes by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen against the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, officials said. Both governments are also concerned about the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, which doesn’t address other security concerns of theirs and has entered the final stages of negotiations in recent weeks.
Biden is asking for a boost in oil production in the wake of the Russian-Ukraine crisis and his decision today to cut off all Russian oil imports into the U.S. The price of Brent crude had already spiked to $132 on Tuesday in anticipation of Biden’s announcement. According to my colleague Annelle Sheline:
Although Saudi fossil fuel only accounts for about 7 percent of U.S. imports, the Saudis have spare capacity and can significantly influence the global price of fuel. However the Saudis and the other members of OPEC+, including Russia, have maintained an agreement to keep production caps in place.
The idea that Biden is not supporting the UAE-Saudi war in Yemen is absurd on all fronts. Instead of stopping U.S. assistance in the destruction of that country like he pledged to do at the beginning of his term in 2021, Biden’s administration has approved the sale of $23 billion in weapons to UAE, and $650 million to Saudi Arabia. The president and his officials have promised to continue assistance to both countries so that they can “defend themselves” against the Houthis in Yemen. That included sending the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer, as well as 5th Generation fighter aircraft to the region in February. As a result, the Saudis have stepped up their air campaign, pounding the country in recent weeks, and continue their crippling economic blockade unabated.
Right now, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 16.2 million Yemenis, or about 45 percent of the population, are food insecure, with more than five million people on the brink of famine. Increased air strikes and violence on the ground have resulting in an uptick in deaths (adding to the 377,000 Yemenis killed from 2015 to the end of 2021) and displacement.
What both the UAE and the Saudis want is to designate the Houthis a terrorist organization which would not only cut off resources to the opposition but deliver what could be a death blow to millions of Yemenis as it would inevitably cut off more aid to the country.
“The designation would place responsibility for the starvation of Yemenis squarely on the shoulders of the U.S., absolving the Houthis of their significant role in contributing to Yemen’s misery,” Sheline wrote last month. “The move could even bolster the group’s credibility, which they seek to establish on the basis of defending Yemen against Saudi, Emirati, and American aggression.”
One hopes that the Biden administration does not fall for these disgusting bribery schemes but he has backed himself into a corner, cutting off Russian oil to punish Putin for a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, with no alternative but to horsetrade with autocrats over the fate of Yemenis a half a world away. If this is geopolitics, heaven forgive us.