Persian Gulf monarchies have signaled they won’t help ease surging oil prices unless Washington supports them in Yemen, elsewhere.
The White House unsuccessfully tried to arrange phone calls between President Biden and the de facto leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the U.S worked to build international support for Ukraine. and contain rising oil prices, the Middle East and the U.S said officials.
“There was some expectation of a phone call, but it didn’t happen,” said a U.S. official of the planned discussion between the Saudi Prince Mohammed and Mr. Biden. “It was part of turning on the spigot of Saudi oil.”
Biden spoke to Prince Mohammed’s 86-year-old father, King Salman, on February 9, when the pair reiterated their country’s longstanding partnership. The US Department of Foreign Affairs said the call between Biden and Sheikh Mohammed would be postponed.
The Saudis have signaled that their relationship with Washington has soured under the Biden administration and want more support for their intervention in the Yemeni civil war, aid for their own civilian nuclear program as Iran advances, and legal immunity for Prince Mohammed in the United States, Saudi officials said. The crown prince faces numerous lawsuits in the United States, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The Emirates shares Saudi concerns over the United States’ subdued response to recent missile strikes by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen against the United States and Saudi Arabia, officials said. Both governments are also concerned about the relaunch of the nuclear deal with Iran, which fails to address their other security concerns and entered the final stage of negotiations in recent weeks.
The White House is working to restore the relationship with two key Middle Eastern countries it needs on its side as oil prices rise above $130 a barrel for the first time in nearly 14 years. Saudi Arabia and the United States are the only two major oil producers capable of pumping millions of additional barrels of extra oil, capacity which, if used, could help calm the crude oil market at some point. where gasoline prices in the United States are at high levels.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week that there were no plans to talk to Prince Mohammed about oil soon and that Biden was not expected to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the US have forged deep ties with former President Donald Trump, who sided with them in a regional dispute with Qatar, the United States withdrew. of the Iran nuclear deal they opposed, he made his first foreign trip to Riyadh in 2017 and backed Prince Mohammed after Mr. Khashoggi. But Trump’s decision not to respond to an Iranian missile and drone strike on key Saudi oil sites in 2019 upset Gulf partners who have relied on the promise of American security protection for decades. Iran has denied any involvement in attacks on oil facilities.
The rift between Biden and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince dates back to the 2020 presidential election, when the Democratic candidate promised to treat the kingdom as a ‘pariah’ state after a team of Saudi assassins killed Mr. Khashoggi in 2018 in Istanbul.
There is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Biden said during a presidential debate in 2019.
After taking office, Mr. Biden released a U.S. intelligence report that concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the plan to capture or kill Mr. Khashoggi, who had been an outspoken critic of the young Saudi ruler.
Prince Mohammed has denied knowing anything about the plot, even though people close to the crown prince were convicted by a Saudi court of taking part in murdering the journalist.
Mr. Biden also publicly castigated Saudi Arabia over its protracted war in Yemen and cut off the flow of some weapons Riyadh could use to target Houthis. The president also reversed a move by his predecessor that put the Houthis on America’s official list of global terrorist groups, a move that Saudi leaders said had emboldened the Yemeni force and thwarted efforts to broker a cease-fire.
On Monday, Ms. Psaki said the president stood by his view that Saudi Arabia should be treated like a “pariah” state and that the leadership had little redeeming social value.
When asked in an interview with the Atlantic magazine released last week if Mr. Biden misunderstood the Saudi leader, Prince Mohammed responded: “Simply, I do not care.”
Prince Mohammed said alienating the Saudi leaders would hurt the U.S. president. “It’s up to him to think about the interests of America,” he said. “Go for it.”
One U.S. official acknowledged that Prince Mohammed is the key Saudi decision maker, and that the Biden administration will have to find ways to work with the crown prince on everything from energy policy to normalizing relations with Israel.
Along with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. has urged the U.S. to put the Houthis on its list of terrorist groups and to send more military aid to help defend the country from more attacks. But the U.S. hasn’t moved to address those Emirati concerns, according to Gulf officials.
Last month, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, flew to Abu Dhabi for a series of meetings with Emirati leaders to discuss ways to beef up security in the wake of the Houthi missile strikes. Gen. McKenzie wanted to meet with Sheikh Mohammed, but was unable to get time with the Emirati leader, according to a Middle East official.
Last week, Yousef Al Otaiba, the U.A.E. ambassador to the U.S., said that relations between the two countries were strained.
“It is like any relationship,” he said in Abu Dhabi. “It has strong days where the relationship is very healthy and days where the relationship is under question. Today, we’re going through a stress test, but I am confident that we will get out of it and get to a better place.”