Earlier this month, OPEC+, the petroleum cartel that’s largely controlled by Saudi Arabia, announced a dramatic cut in oil production, which sent the price of oil and gas rising. This has led the Biden administration to sharply denounce the Saudis and even announce a review of U.S. ties to the kingdom.
A new report gives more background about the rupture in relations between the longtime allies, revealing that the United States believed it had a secret deal in place with the Saudis to go the opposite direction with oil production.
According to the New York Times, this took place around the time of the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July. Biden aides believed they had a deal with the Saudis to boost oil production through the end of the year, which would help bring down oil prices ahead of the midterm elections in November.
However, OPEC+ nevertheless voted to cut oil production instead. As a result, gas prices are high heading into the midterms, and Biden has fallen short of his campaign promise to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.”
“Lawmakers who had been told about the trip’s benefits in classified briefings and other conversations that included details of the oil deal—which has not been previously disclosed and was supposed to lead to a surge in production between September and December—have been left fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration,” the Times said.
The deal entailed the Saudis accelerating planned increases in the fall to the summer, and then increasing production by 200,000 barrels per day between September and December. Biden would then travel to Saudi Arabia. The latter took place, but the former did not. OPEC+ announced a smaller-than-expected increase in August before cutting production in September and October.
The report also said that just days before the announcement of the OPEC+ cut, Biden officials had “received assurances from the crown prince there would be no production cuts.”
The Saudi Energy Ministry denied that in a statement to the newspaper.
“The kingdom rejects these allegations and stresses that such mischaracterizations made by anonymous sources are entirely false. … The decisions of OPEC Plus are reached by the consensus of all members and determined solely by market fundamentals, not politics,” it said.
Amos Hochstein, the administration’s energy envoy, also weighed in to the Times, in a conciliatory way.
“While we clearly disagreed with the OPEC Plus decision in early October, we recognize the importance of continuing to work and communicate with Saudi Arabia and other producers to ensure a stable and fair global energy market,” Hochstein said.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.