Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Top senator proposes ‘freeze’ on US-Saudi cooperation over oil dispute

Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has urged the US government to freeze its cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including in the military and security fields, due to Riyadh’s decision to cut oil production

“The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests,” Menendez wrote.

He said that the “terrible” decision made by OPEC+, an organization made up of countries including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq and Iran that export oil, would “help underwrite [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.”

“There simply is no room to play both sides of this conflict – either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping off an entire country off of the map, or you support him,” he added.

The senator pledged that he will not approve any cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the Foreign Relations Committee unless and until the nation’s leadership changes its decision.

Saudi Arabia’s energy scale-back has been criticized by numerous Democrats since it was announced on Wednesday.

The 2 million-barrel-per-day cut will likely contribute to a spike in gas prices in the US, which may affect Democrats’ chances in the midterm elections next month.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) advocated on Friday for pulling US troops out of Saudi Arabia in response to the move.

“If Saudi Arabia, one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, wants to partner with Russia to jack up US gas prices, it can get Putin to defend its monarchy,” he wrote.

“We must pull all US troops out of Saudi Arabia, stop selling them weapons & end its price-fixing oil cartel,” he continued.

The Joe Biden administration agreed that Saudi Arabia’s choice showed solidarity with Putin.

“It’s clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia with today’s announcement,” noted White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shortly after the announcement of the cut.

US Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Democratic Representative Ro Khanna are proposing new legislation to stop providing weapons to Saudi Arabia, in response to Riyadh’s decision to back OPEC+ cuts to oil production.

“The Saudi decision was a pointed blow to the US, but the US also has a way to respond: It can promptly pause the massive transfer of American warfare technology into the eager hands of the Saudis,” Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Khanna said in a Sunday article for POLITICO.

They argued that what Washington perceives as Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia merits a “far-reaching review of the US-Saudi relationship”.

Blumenthal and Khanna emphasized that Saudi Arabia largely depends on US defense assistance and will be forced to “come back to the table and negotiate with the US in good faith” if Washington deprives Riyadh of arms supplies.

“…We are proposing bicameral legislation in the Senate and House on Tuesday that will immediately halt all US arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” the US lawmakers said, adding that the proposed pause of US military supplies should include “the controversial, new and hastily planned Red Sands testing facilities in Saudi Arabia”.

If faced with a ban on arms sales, the Saudis will find it very challenging to find foreign replacements, according to Blumenthal and Khanna.

“And any ban could be temporary — until Saudi Arabia reconsiders its embrace of Putin,” the US lawmakers noted.

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