Biden Planning Saudi Trip As Gas Prices Soar, But MbS Still Unpunished Over Khashoggi Murder

Biden Planning Saudi Trip As Gas Prices Soar, But MbS Still Unpunished Over Khashoggi Murder

As gas prices soar, President Biden is reportedly planning a trip to Saudi Arabia this month, the AP reports, but also notes that it’s “a trip that would likely bring him face-to-face with the Saudi crown prince he once shunned as a killer.”

Indeed Biden is also on record as calling Mohammed Bin Salman a “pariah” – but more recently this rhetoric has been missing as the Ukraine crisis has left Washington quietly begging the world’s top oil exporter to urgently loosen up supply, giving MbS leverage, witnessed for example in the White House dispatching CIA director William Burns to meet with the crown prince in an attempt to smooth over relations in April.

And more recently National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk alongside Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser for energy security at the State Department, traveled to hold preparatory talks with the Saudis.

If such a high-level trip as a personal Biden visit to Riyadh materializes, it’s expected to include meetings with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates), but also Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, based on White House sources cited by the AP.

Bloomberg is meanwhile reporting that the Biden Saudi trip is “likely” but as yet unconfirmed that it would include a personal meeting with MbS. However, it’s almost impossible to conceive of such a trip without the US president meeting with or getting the blessing of the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

A Biden trip to Saudi Arabia has been rumored and reportedly in the making for months, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine brought turmoil and extreme uncertainty to oil markets. But the Saudi state-ordered murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Istanbul consulate in 2018 still looms large, and though multiple investigations (including a report by the CIA), have pointed the finger directly at MbS, the Biden administration has thus far not taken any steps to punish the Saudi ruler. That possibility now seems further away than ever.

There’s also political risk for Biden in appearing too willing to mend ties, as the AP aptly summarizes, “For Biden, the political dangers of offering his hand to Prince Mohammed include the potential for an embarrassing last-minute public rebuff from a still-offended crown prince known for imperious, harsh actions.”

And then there’s MbS’ well-known waves of crackdowns on both royal and political rivals and dissidents within the country: “Since Prince Mohammed became crown prince in 2017, that has included detaining his own royal uncles and cousins as well as Saudi rights advocates, and, according to the U.S. intelligence community, directing Khashoggi’s killing,” the AP writes.

On top of all this, word of Biden’s potential trip has stirred fresh criticism over failing to spotlight the Saudi role in 9/11, as The Hill reports Thursday:

A group representing the families and loved ones of 9/11 victims wrote an open letter to President Biden over his reported upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

The 9/11 Families United chair Terry Strada urged Biden to “prioritize accountability for 9/11” in any conversations he or his administration have with Saudi officials or with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman when he visits the Middle Eastern country.

The letter highlighted Biden’s Executive Order to declassify 3,000 pages of documents related to the attack. The president said this action “confirms our long-held beliefs regarding Saudi Arabia’s deep involvement in the murders of our loved ones.”

So far what has been declassified (going all the way back to the “28 pages” under Obama) has proved embarrassing for the Saudis, as evidence mounts of Saudi intelligence ties to some of the hijackers.

* * *

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a good list of key takeaways from Thursday’s OPEC+ meeting on oil output, surrounding news of an impending Biden trip:

  • OPEC+ surprised the market for the first time in a long while with a decision to deviate from its standard schedule of monthly production increases. Hikes for July and August will be 50% bigger than usual, at 648,000 barrels a day. That will complete the reversal of several years of output cuts a month earlier than planned.
  • The decision suggests that Saudi Arabia has finally assented to US requests for extra barrels, as President Joe Biden seeks help with runaway crude prices — and to fill the impending supply gap as the west sanctions OPEC+ member Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
  • Riyadh’s pivot appears to be the culmination of months of diplomatic effort by Washington, and the prospect of a visit to the kingdom by Biden himself. The lasting impact on Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Moscow, and the future of the OPEC+ alliance, remains unclear.
  • The actual production delivered to the market will inevitably be much smaller than advertised: As most OPEC+ members are unable to increase output, any additional barrels will need to come from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iraq. How much relief consumers feel at the pump is an open question.
  • As the coalition’s core Gulf members tap their remaining reserves more quickly, traders will probably start to wonder how high they can go — and fret over how much spare production capacity remains to cover any further disruptions.

This as news breaks Thursday that OPEC+ has agreed to increase oil supply hikes by some 50% amid months of growing pressure from consumers hit hard by the Ukraine invasion fallout and corresponding Western sanctions on Russian energy.

Perhaps Biden can console himself with one fact regarding MbS: #AtLeastHe’sNotPutin

Tyler Durden
Thu, 06/02/2022 – 12:10

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