Biden signals this may be more than a lovers’ spat with Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden wants to work with Congress to “re-evaluate” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia following OPEC’s recent decision to significantly cut oil production, according to a White House spokesperson.
“The president’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to re-evaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told CNN. “He’s willing to work with Congress to think through what that relationship ought to look like going forward.”
“I don’t think this is anything that’s going to have to wait or should wait, quite frankly, for much longer,” Kirby added.
The statement comes as Biden faces unprecedented pressure from lawmakers for a fundamental change to U.S.-Saudi ties.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that Washington should freeze “all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend U.S. personnel and interests.”
Three Democratic House members went further Friday when they introduced a bill that would mandate the removal of all American military assets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
And on Sunday, Sen. Richard Blumental (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) announced a bicameral proposal that would “immediately halt all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.” In an op-ed for Politico, Blumenthal and Khanna also said that their bill “is already garnering bipartisan support in both chambers.”
Notably, the blowback has centered around the idea that the OPEC+ decision will benefit Russia, a major oil exporter, in its war in Ukraine. Military partnerships could return if Riyadh “reconsiders its embrace of Putin,” as Blumenthal and Khanna wrote. This signals a lack of interest in using this new wave of pressure to push for an end to the brutal Saudi war in Yemen, which has animated many of the kingdom’s biggest U.S. critics in recent years.
Regardless, Biden’s response shows a marked shift in White House thinking on U.S.-Saudi ties just a few months after the president’s controversial visit to Riyadh, in which he and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman shared a now-infamous fist bump.