Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Officials say US mulling reduction of Saudi military aid over oil dispute

The White House is considering rolling back military aid to Saudi Arabia as a punishment for the decision by OPEC+, which is de facto led by Riyadh, to reduce oil production, US officials have told the news network NBC.

The measures could include a freeze on the delivery of Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia, the broadcaster reported. The $3 billion deal, under which Riyadh would have received 300 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical Ballistic Missiles (GEM-T), was approved by Washington in August. It is seen as crucial for the Saudis to resupply missiles for their Patriot launchers, as the country is being targeted by frequent missile and drone attack from Houthi rebels in Yemen, in response to a long-running bombing campaign by Riyadh.

Another option on the agenda is excluding the kingdom from upcoming military drills and regional conferences, including those dedicated to attempts by the US and its allies to create a joint air defense system in the region, the sources stated.

However, two US officials and another informed source pointed out that no decision has yet been made in Washington. Much will depend on the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) summit in December, they continued, adding that if the meeting leads to an increase in production, the Saudis could avoid US retaliation altogether.

According to NBC, some military leaders in the US are against reducing defense cooperation with Riyadh. They argue that leaving Saudi Arabia, which has been Washington’s key ally in the Persian Gulf for decades, without Patriot missiles and other American equipment, could jeopardize US troops and civilians in the country and undermine the stability of the whole region. Commanders have already shared those concerns with the Biden administration, the sources added.

The US has been urging the Saudis to increase oil production for months, saying lower prices would hurt Russia and make it harder for Moscow to bankroll its military operation in Ukraine. However, the OPEC+ group, which includes Russia, outraged Washington earlier this month by announcing an oil production cut of two million barrels a day starting in November.

There will be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia because of the move, US President Joe Biden warned. When asked by CNN whether it was time for Washington to re-evaluate its relationship with Riyadh, Biden responded: “yes.”

The Saudis have been insisting that oil production cuts were a unanimous decision by OPEC+ members, made for purely economic reasons.

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