(CNSNews.com) – National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby on Thursday dismissed as “spin” Saudi Arabia’s defense of the recent OPEC+ oil production cut – which included the potentially politically explosive claim that it had been asked to postpone the decision for one month.
Kirby’s statement came amid a diplomatic row between the Biden administration and the regime in Riyadh, which has pushed back on the administration’s charge that the October 5 OPEC+ decision to reduce production by two million barrels a day was taken to benefit Russia’s war in Ukraine, and hurt U.S. interests.
Prodded by congressional Democrats, the administration has signaled that a “recalibration” of the decades-old relationship with the kingdom is under discussion, and President Biden has promised “consequences.”
Biden told reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday that “we’re about to talk to” the Saudis. “Stay tuned,” he added.
In an unusually detailed statement on Thursday, the Saudi foreign ministry responded to the U.S. accusations, denying that the oil production cut had been “politically motived” against the U.S. or related to the war in Ukraine.
The statement included the claim that a one-month postponement of the decision had “been suggested” – it did not say by whom – but that Saudi Arabia had disagreed:
“[T]he Kingdom clarified through its continuous consultation with the US Administration that all economic analyses indicate that postponing the OPEC+ decision for a month, according to what has been suggested, would have had negative economic consequences.”
Earlier the Wall Street Journal had reported that Saudi officials had rejected a U.S. request for a one-month delay, “which they viewed as a political gambit by the Biden administration to avoid bad news ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, on which control of Congress hangs.”
In a statement later Thursday, Kirby said, “The Saudi foreign ministry can try to spin or deflect, but the facts are simple.”
He said the Saudis knew that their intention to reduce oil production “would increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions,” but had gone ahead with the move.
They had done so despite the U.S. having “presented Saudi Arabia with analysis to show that there was no market basis to cut production targets, and that they could easily wait for the next OPEC meeting to see how things developed,” Kirby said.
The Saudi statement said that the decision on reducing production “was taken unanimously by all member states of the OPEC+ group.”
But Kirby said that some “OPEC nations communicated to us privately that they also disagreed with the Saudi decision, but felt coerced to support Saudi’s direction.”
“As the president has said, we are reevaluating our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of these actions, and will continue to look for signs about where they stand in combatting Russian aggression,” the statement concluded.
OPEC+ comprises OPEC and cooperating non-OPEC oil producers. The 23-member super cartel is effectively co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The closest Kirby’s statement came to addressing the issue of the alleged one-month postponement request was the reference to the U.S. having told the Saudis that “that they could easily wait for the next OPEC meeting to see how things developed.”
However, the next OPEC+ meeting is scheduled to take placed on December 4 – two months after the previous one.
‘A clear case of the Democratic Party putting its own interests first’
Kirby’s comments drew a swift retort from the editor-in-chief of a leading Saudi daily, Arab News.
While Kirby called the Saudi position “spin,” wrote Faisal Abbas in an editorial, “in truth, all the ‘spin’ is coming from Washington, which has been on an embarrassing spree of self-contradiction.”
Abbas pointed to claims about a one-month delay request and a purported link to the midterm election – specifically citing remarks by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to Fox News – and to the Saudi foreign ministry’s indirect reference to a suggested month-long postponement.
“So what we have here is a clear case of the Democratic Party putting its own interests first, dressed up as concern for both Ukraine and the global economy,” wrote Abbas, “and if that’s not spin, I don’t know what is.”
(In his remarks to Fox News, Cotton said he could believe the postponement request reports “because the Democrats will do anything to try to keep gas [prices] from increasing before the election.”)
On Wednesday – a day before the Saudi foreign ministry issued its statement – State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about reports that U.S. officials had urged the Saudis to hold off on a decision for a month.
“I certainly can’t confirm that report,” he said. “What I can confirm is that we conveyed a consistent message to the Saudis: energy supply needs to meet energy demand.”
Price said U.S. engagement with the Saudis regarding energy has taken place “over the course of many months” and “did not take place solely in the context of October...2022 or September 2022.”
The Saudi foreign ministry statement won support Thursday from Riyadh’s partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose other members are the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Yemen, and Bahrain.
GCC secretary general Nayef Al Hajraf “expressed full solidarity with Saudi Arabia and his utter rejection of the statements [issued against Saudi Arabia], saying they lacked facts and credibility.”
In its latest oil market report the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that the OPEC+ decision will lead to higher oil prices.
“With unrelenting inflationary pressures and interest rate hikes taking their toll, higher oil prices may prove the tipping point for a global economy already on the brink of recession,” it warned.
Brent crude oil was trading at around $94 a barrel on Oct. 6, the day after the OPEC+ decision was announced. It climbed to $98 on Oct. 10 but was trading at around $94 again by Oct. 13.