After the Wall Street Journal claimed that Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, commonly known as “MbS,” had refused to take a phone call from President Joe Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied the allegation, claiming that it was “inaccurate.”
“The president did speak with the Saudi king just a few weeks ago, several weeks ago, so it’s all running together at this point in time,” Psaki said, referring to an earlier call between Biden and King Salman, MbS’ father, on February 9. “There were no rebuffed calls, period.”
The Wall Street Journal claimed on Wednesday that the Saudi crown prince—notorious in the West for his suspected involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi—had refused to speak with Biden, rebuffing the president for his opposition to Riyadh’s ongoing military campaign in Yemen. “There was some expectation of a phone call, but it didn’t happen,” an anonymous official quoted in the Journal said.
As the U.S. government attempts to grapple with skyrocketing oil prices from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has called on other major oil-producing nations to increase their production, including some typically regarded as adversaries. Washington has pushed for a quick resolution to Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna, as a settlement there would lower restrictions on Iranian oil sales and decrease the global price of oil. U.S. officials also visited oil-rich Venezuela in an attempt to encourage the government to increase his production.
Although Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter. Riyadh is traditionally regarded as the most influential nation within OPEC, the international oil cartel with tremendous influence over global oil policies. However, despite the booming oil prices and pressure from the Biden administration to increase its supply, Saudi Arabia has so far declined.
Prior to the oil shock, Biden, who has described MbS as a “thug,” appeared reluctant to speak with the crown prince. In spite of MbS’ role as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the White House had insisted that diplomatic protocol dictated that Biden should speak instead with King Salman. MbS’ alleged refusal to speak with Biden this week was tied by many outside observers to an interview in The Atlantic, in which he suggested that he did “not care” if Biden misunderstood him.
The Journal’s report also claimed that the United Arab Emirates’ crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, also refused Biden’s call. However, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, indicated on Wednesday that Abu Dhabi would push OPEC to increase production levels, leading to a rapid decrease in oil prices.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.