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Why U.S.-Saudi Relations Are On The Brink As Top-Ranking Senator Threatens To ‘Immediately Freeze’ Relationship

Why U.S.-Saudi Relations Are On The Brink As Top-Ranking Senator Threatens To ‘Immediately Freeze’ Relationship

Topline

The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the U.S. to “immediately freeze” all cooperation with Saudi Arabia on Monday, as outrage in Washington against the Saudi government continues to grow after the oil-rich country joined Russia in slashing oil production, threatening to greatly reduce U.S. relations with one of its top allies in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has the power to greatly alter U.S.-Saudi relations.

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Key Facts

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement he will block any weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, claiming the country “help[ed] underwrite Putin’s war” against Ukraine and declaring “enough is enough.”

Menendez is referring to last week’s agreement between the Saudi-led OPEC+ alliance, a group of oil-producing countries including Russia, to jointly slash production to drive up declining crude oil prices.

Rising oil prices will help Russia finance its war operations in Ukraine, as its state-owned energy operations bring the Kremlin hundreds of billions of dollars even as Europe and other Western countries wean off of Russian oil and gas, contributing to a growing energy crisis in Europe.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez can veto any arms sales to foreign countries and is an influential voice among lawmakers on foreign policy.

Criticism of the close U.S.-Saudi relationship has ramped up in recent years, especially after the Saudi government commissioned the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but cutting off relations entirely would be a major change, considering President Joe Biden traveled to the country in July to meet with de-factor ruler ​​Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Biden signed off on a $3 billion arms sale to the country in August.

A growing chorus of mostly Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), have called on Biden to respond to the OPEC+ production cut, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer while Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a motion last year to block weapons sales to the country.

Key Background

Oil prices have soared in 2022 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine destabilized the energy market, and the price for international benchmark Brent Crude was $96 per barrel while the price of U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate was $91 per barrel, each up more than 20% year-to-date. Elevated oil prices have caused the cost of U.S. gas to rise to record prices, driving inflation to its highest level in the U.S. in more than 40 years.

Crucial Quote

“What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans,” Schumer said in a statement last week. “We are looking at all the legislative tools to best deal with this appalling and deeply cynical action, including the NOPEC bill,” referring to a bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year designed to hinder the alliance by removing OPEC’s sovereign immunity to antitrust laws. However, a source told Bloomberg there isn’t a plan in place to bring the bill to the floor any time soon.

Tangent

The Saudi government has made waves in the U.S. for bankrolling the new, Trump-aligned PGA Tour competitor LIV Golf, signing some of the most prominent American golfers away from the PGA Tour. LIV will play its first-ever tournament in Saudi Arabia later this week.

Further Viewing

Further Reading

Dems rage at Saudis over oil cut, vow to block weapons sales (Politico)

Why gas prices are going back up after nearly 100 days of declines (NBC News)

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