OPEC+ oil output cut shows widening rift between Biden and Saudi royals

The OPEC+ organization’s decision this week to cut oil production despite stiff US opposition has further strained already tense relations between President Joe Biden’s White House and Saudi Arabia’s royal family, once one of Washington’s staunchest Middle East allies, according to interviews with about a dozen government officials and experts in Washington and the Gulf.

The White House pushed hard to prevent the OPEC output cut, these sources said. Biden hopes to keep US gasoline prices from spiking again ahead of midterm elections in which his Democratic party is struggling to maintain control of the US Congress. Washington also wants to limit Russia’s energy revenue during the Ukraine war.

The US administration lobbied OPEC+ for weeks. In recent days, senior US officials from energy, foreign policy and economic teams urged their foreign counterparts to vote against an output cut, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

Amos Hochstein, Biden’s top energy envoy, along with national security official Brett McGurk and the administration’s special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking, travelled to Saudi Arabia last month to discuss energy issues, including the OPEC+ decision.

Read US ‘will not walk away’ from Middle East: Biden to Arab leaders

They failed to prevent an output cut, just as Biden did after his own July visit.

US officials “tried to position it as ‘us versus Russia,'” said one source briefed on the discussions, telling Saudi officials they needed to make a choice.

That argument failed, the source said, adding that the Saudis said that if the United States wanted more oil on the markets, it should start producing more of its own.

The United States is the world’s No. 1 oil producer and also its top consumer, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

The Saudi government media office CIC did not respond to Reuters emailed requests for comment about the discussions.

“We are concerned first and foremost with the interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and then the interests of the countries that trusted us and are members of OPEC and the OPEC + alliance,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz told Saudi TV Wednesday.

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