Is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ignoring Joe Biden? It certainly feels that way.
Ever since Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline in June as a gesture to the environmental lobbyists and banned imports of Russian oil as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine, he has taken a leaf from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s book and turned to Saudi Arabia for its oil exports. Except bin Salman and his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, are yet to agree to a phone call with the U.S. president.
And to drive home the point that the U.S.’s influence has diminished over the Saudis — the world’s biggest oil exporter — Washington requested that the OPEC+ cartel — of which Saudi Arabia is a vital member — produce more oil to stem the already increasing prices of the natural resource. OPEC+ refused and said it would boost oil production by 400,000 barrels a day in April, an increase agreed upon before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Evidently, relations between Biden and his Saudi counterpart have sunk to an all-time low. The sad reality is that the Saudis are right to leave him out to dry, both figuratively and literally.
The comments that the U.S. president made about Saudi Arabia have come back to bite him at a time when he needs their support the most.
Let us rewind back to November 2019, when foreign policy took center stage during a debate in the Democratic primaries. Biden stated that he would not sell arms directly to Riyadh — a clear about-face from his days as President Barack Obama’s vice president — and stressed that he would force the Saudis to “pay the price” for killing Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. He also referred to Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.”
In reference to the killing of Khashoggi, it goes without saying that Saudi Arabia has a far from perfect human rights record. When Biden came to power, Human Rights Watch’s 2021 report found that Saudi authorities failed to hold high-level officials accountable for their suspected involvement in the Washington Post journalist’s murder in 2018. Also, the trial that sentenced eight lower-level operatives involved in the murder lacked transparency.
The same report also condemned the Saudi-led coalition for its military campaign against the Houthi rebel group in Yemen which has included numerous unlawful airstrikes that have killed and wounded thousands of civilians.
Yet since April 2021, Biden has been negotiating an awful new deal with the Iranians that would replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Obama signed in 2015, and which President Donald Trump pulled out of three years later. Prior to the negotiations, which are taking place in Vienna, Austria, the Iranian-backed Houthis were removed from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list in March 2021, which was seen as a gesture to persuade the Iranians to return to the negotiating table. However, this will give them a free pass to continue with their destabilizing activities in the Middle East.
No matter what one may think of Saudi Arabia, disparaging them at the expense of signing a Munich-style agreement with Tehran is a reckless move. For all the Saudis’ faults, they are a far more reliable ally to the U.S. due to their relationship with Israel and the UAE, as opposed to a terrorist-sponsoring nation like Iran.
Also, the Saudis have been more than helpful toward the U.S. in the past, like when they helped the Americans fight Iraq in Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
Biden may think he is coming across as tough toward the Saudis by “downgrading” Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, but his lack of consistency when it comes to both Iran and Saudi Arabia is dumb and dangerous.
Other risky aspects of the deal the U.S. president is negotiating with Iran include failing to curb Iran’s nuclear program altogether, which should worry not only Saudi Arabia, but the UAE and Israel as well, especially as Iranian leaders have threatened to destroy Israel in the past. (READ MORE: Why Biden Is Wrong on Saudi Arabia)
The proposed deal American and Iranian officials are forging in Vienna would enable Iran to sell oil not only to Russia and China, but to the U.S. as well, which would completely undercut Saudi exports. What makes matters worse is that the Biden administration’s gestures toward Riyadh have resulted in the Saudis unintentionally helping the Russians. How can Western nations end their dependence on Russian oil if Saudi Arabia will not increase its oil exports? As Angus Colwell wrote for the British Spectator recently, there is no way the Saudis would sell their exports to the West at lower prices when they can generate income from oil sales for their Vision 2030 reform plans.
Biden has a choice to make. He cannot have it both ways with Saudi Arabia and Iran. It appears unlikely that he would be brave enough to admit he is wrong on the Iran deal and pull out of the Vienna negotiations. In fact, at this time of writing, Russia is unlikely to veto the agreement as it has received guarantees that it can “carry on with its work in Iran.” Why would the Saudis trust the U.S. to be a reliable ally against the Russians in the Middle East if they are allowing Moscow to dictate the terms of the Iran pact, which may well go ahead now that Moscow has indicated they will not veto it? Biden needs to reset America’s relations with Riyadh, and fast.