Washington (AFP) – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called on Monday for a freeze on all US cooperation with Saudi Arabia, in one of the strongest expressions yet of US anger over Saudi oil production cuts that are bolstering Russia in its war in Ukraine.
In a statement, Menendez specifically called for a cut in all arms sales and security cooperation — a cornerstone of the US strategic partnership with the oil kingdom for more than 70 years — beyond the minimum necessary to defend US and US interests.
As chair of the committee, Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, pledged that he would “not give the green light to any cooperation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassess its position regarding the war in Ukraine. That is enough.”
His statement comes four days after Saudi Arabia and Russia led OPEC countries to announce a two million barrel per day oil production cut. The Saudi- and Russian-led cuts are helping to support high oil prices that allow President Vladimir Putin to continue paying for his eight-month invasion of Ukraine. The production cut also hurts US-led efforts to make the war financially unsustainable for Russia, threatens a global economy already troubled by the conflict in Ukraine, and risks burdening President Joe Biden and Democrats with higher gasoline prices ahead of the US midterm elections.
Menendez’s announcement on Monday places him among a growing number of Democrats who have called, since the announcement of OPEC nations and Russia, for a halt to billions of dollars in annual US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Democrats accuse Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, of actually belittling the Saudi side of a decades-old deal that involved the US defense and defense industry providing security for Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia in turn providing the world. Markets with a reliable flow of oil.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week was among Democrats to criticize Prince Mohammed for appearing to work in support of Putin’s invasion.
Schumer announced at the time that lawmakers were looking at legislative options to deal with what he called “the appalling and extremely cynical measure” of Saudi Arabia.
Democratic lawmakers were within a day of the OPEC move introducing new legislation to halt US arms sales to the kingdom. Monday’s action by Menendez, given his key role in sponsoring foreign policy legislation, raises the possibility that Congress will act to punish the Saudis during the lame-duck period after the November elections.
It is not clear how far Menendez and other Democrats will go in practice in cutting off arms deals and most other cooperation with the Saudis, or whether the Biden administration will move forward. Biden said last week he was disappointed with Saudi Arabia’s role in the latest oil production cut and said the administration was considering options.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House on Monday to Menendez’s move.
Last week’s oil production cuts delivered one of the sharpest blows yet to US-Saudi relations. Among them is the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, in which US intelligence concluded that the crown prince played a key role. Americans also blame the crown prince for refusing to join US-led efforts to isolate and punish Putin for his invasion of Ukraine in February, and for maintaining seemingly cordial relations with Putin.
“There is simply no room for playing either side of this conflict — either supporting the rest of the free world in trying to prevent a war criminal from violently wiping an entire country off the map, or supporting it,” Menendez said. in his statement. “Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a shocking decision driven by economic self-interest.”
Biden has sought to mend ties with Prince Mohammed, traveling to Saudi Arabia in July to deliver an embarrassing fist in a conciliatory gesture.
Amer Madani contributed from Washington.
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