Biden criticized over report of planned Saudi trip to discuss global oil supply

Biden on a blue background

Originally posted to The Guardian website, 8 March 2022

White House refuses to confirm that top advisers considering spring Saudi Arabia visit to propose increase in oil exports

Joe Biden attracted criticism from both progressives and Republicans after a report indicated the White House was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss global oil supply.

Axios reported on Sunday that Biden’s senior advisers were considering a spring trip to Saudi Arabia in an effort to improve relations and to propose a potential increase in oil exports.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, would not confirm those plans on Monday, although she noted that senior administration officials traveled to Saudi Arabia last month to “discuss a range of issues including the war in Yemen, including security in the region and certainly including energy security”.

“They had the discussion … it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce the impact on the global oil marketplace,” Psaki said.

The Axios report comes as the US and its western allies consider banning imports of Russian oil in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The White House had dismissed a ban, out of concern for how it would limit oil supply and further drive up gas prices which have already hit a 14-year US high.

But the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, indicated on Sunday that the west is warming to the idea of a ban on importing Russian oil.

“We are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries, while of course, at the same time, maintaining a steady global supply of oil,” Blinken told NBC.

A ban on Russian oil imports would have a substantial impact on the US and allies, particularly European nations. In 2019, Russia provided 41% of natural gas imports to European Union countries.

If another oil-producing nation like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela started exporting more to the US and the EU, such shipments could help fill the gap created by a Russian ban. Psaki confirmed that a group of Biden’s advisers traveled to Caracas over the weekend to meet with Venezuelan officials, but she did not indicate whether the White House would soon call for easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil.

“There was a discussion that was had by members of the administration over the course of last several days. Those discussions are also ongoing,” Psaki said at a White House press briefing on Monday. “So at this point in time, I don’t have anything to predict.”

But such attempts to find other oil suppliers have sparked outrage among some lawmakers. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a member of the “Squad” of progressives in the US House, accused Biden of turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s alleged war crimes in Yemen.

“Our response to Putin’s immoral war shouldn’t be to strengthen our relationship with the Saudis who are currently causing the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet in Yemen,” Omar said in a tweet.


“Yemenis might not matter to some geopolitically but their humanity should. This is [a] wildly immoral act.”

Melanie D’Arrigo, a progressive congressional candidate in New York, argued the White House should take the opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels, reducing reliance on oil-producing countries.

“Transitioning away from fossil fuels means our reliance on oil wouldn’t dictate our foreign policy and force us to align with murderous human rights abusers. We can save millions of lives and our planet with a Green New Deal,” D’Arrigo said on Twitter, referring to the progressive platform to substantially reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans said potential outreach to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela underscored the need to increase domestic oil production.

“America can easily replace #PutinOil by producing more of our own,” said Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee.

“Instead the Biden plan is to beg Saudi Arabia to produce more, buy more from a narco terrorist #MaduroRegime in #Venezuela [and] cut a deal with the [world’s] leading state sponsor of terror in #Iran.”

A Republican congressman, Carlos Gimenez, echoed Rubio, saying: “Biden’s team would rather fly to Saudi Arabia, a country with whom we have a dicey relationship, to pump more oil rather than produce more energy right here at home. Everything this administration does is just so backwards.”

Boosting domestic oil production runs counter to Biden’s promises to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and help transition the US to renewable forms of energy, one piece of Democrats’ broader agenda to address the climate crisis.

Some critics noted that a warmer relationship with Saudi Arabia would also contradict Biden’s promises on the campaign trail.

Biden said at a Democratic primary debate in 2019 he would force Saudi Arabia to “pay the price” for the 2018 murder of a Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence agencies concluded was approved by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.

“Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince,” Biden said then. “And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”

In an interview published by the Atlantic this month, the prince had a pointed message for America.

“We don’t have the right to lecture you in America,” he said. “The same goes the other way … You don’t have the right to interfere in our interior issues.”

The piece itself caused controversy. The Washington Post responded with a column under the headline ‘The Atlantic’s elevation of MBS is an insult to journalism’.

The prince’s comments seemed to be a direct attack on Biden’s promise to crack down on corrupt regimes. Now, however, he and the Biden administration may be getting back into business.

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