US dismisses Saudi defense of Opec+ oil production cuts as ‘spin’

The White House on Thursday dismissed Saudi Arabia’s claims that recent Opec+ production cuts had nothing to do with the kingdom’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the rift between the two states over oil prices widens.

“The Saudi foreign ministry may try to twist or distract, but the facts are simple,” said John Kirby, a senior spokesman for the US National Security Council, referring to Saudi Arabia’s argument that last week’s cuts were purely economic basis had been decided.

“In recent weeks, the Saudis – privately and publicly – have told us of their intention to cut oil production, which they knew would increase Russian revenues and weaken the effectiveness of sanctions. That’s the wrong direction,” Kirby added.

The rebuke comes after Saudi Arabia published an extraordinarily detailed and unusual defense of Opec+ cuts on Wednesday night, arguing that the moves were the result of a unanimous decision by cartel members and had nothing to do with the war in Ukraine had.

The statement also appeared to imply that the US had sought to delay the upcoming oil production cut by a month, which would have lessened the impact of a rise in crude prices until after the US midterm elections.

Kirby did not deny that Washington asked for the cuts to be delayed by a month, but dismissed the suggestion that the request was politically motivated and said the US had put forward economic reasons for waiting for decisions on the production would be cut.

“We provided Saudi Arabia with an analysis to show that there was no market basis to cut production targets and they could easily wait for the next Opec meeting to see how things pan out,” he said. The cartel announced last week that it would meet in December, although it had previously met every month.

Kirby added that the US had heard privately from other OPEC nations that “they also disagreed with the Saudi decision but felt compelled to support the Saudi direction.”

According to people familiar with the discussions, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Bahrain were among Opec+ members unhappy with the cuts, although none made their opposition public.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to slash oil prices has infuriated officials in Washington, particularly given US President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom in the summer, which was designed to persuade Riyadh to increase oil production to keep prices down and ensure the effectiveness of the oil price sanctions regime against Russia.

At the trip, Biden reversed an earlier promise to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state over its role in the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and drew criticism from Democrats and others skeptical about the benefits of the US-Saudi relationship .

Biden and other US officials have since vowed to work with Congress to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia and take steps to punish Riyadh for its decision.

The US will monitor whether Opec+ decides to increase oil production at their next meeting while assessing its ongoing relationship with the kingdom, Kirby said, adding that “certainly is a factor and a significant one”.

“We’ll be watching their future meetings to see what they make of it,” he said. “What we seek . . . can be seen that stretch [the Saudis] do you want to stay? Do they want to stay on the side of Russia? Will they continue to tacitly support the Russians’ ability to continue killing the Ukrainian people?” US dismisses Saudi defense of Opec+ oil production cuts as ‘spin’

Adam Bradshaw

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