Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salmand (2nd from left), OPEC Secretary-General Haitham al-Ghais (right) and other officials hold a press conference Oct. 5. Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
According to a former US official and an Arab official, Saudi Arabia has privately urged several Arab countries to issue statements supporting OPEC+’s recent decision to cut oil production.
Why it matters: The goal of the Saudi push was likely to avoid isolation by the US and to show that the decision, which angered the Biden administration, was a collective decision by all Arab nations in OPEC+.
The big picture: The Biden administration blames Saudi Arabia for the move the US claims will strengthen Russia.
- Saudi officials claim the US anger has nothing to do with Russia but stems from domestic concerns about rising gas prices ahead of the midterm elections.
Catch up fast: Two weeks ago, OPEC+ announced production cuts from April 2 million barrels per day from November.
- The US asked OPEC+ members, mainly Saudi Arabia, to wait another month to assess the situation in the oil market before deciding on production cuts.
- Saudi Arabia, which leads the OPEC+ group, ignored US demands and proceeded with production cuts.
- The move sparked a crisis between the US and Saudi Arabia, with the Biden administration announcing it would review its relationship with Saudi Arabia and President Biden pledging to take action against the Saudis.
Background: OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s dominant producer, began working with Russia and some allied producers on market management in the mid-2010s in response to surges in US shale production.
- The group adjusts production targets based on macro conditions to protect revenue and market share and prop up prices. But as with any multilateral group, its decisions can also be political in nature.
- Saudi officials insist the latest production cut is a answer on market forces and pointed to forces weighing on global demand growth, including monetary tightening and China’s COVID lockdowns.
- But US officials argue that there was no firm market justification and that the move is helping Russia. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week that the move “would increase Russian revenue and weaken the effectiveness of sanctions.”
Backstage: In a bid to roll back the US allegations, Saudi officials in recent days have reached out to Arab countries that are OPEC+ members and several Arab countries that are not, asking for public statements of support.
- An official from one of the Arab countries said the Saudi pressure was at a very high level and the Saudis were pushing very hard.
- A former US official briefed on the issue said Saudi officials had urged Arab countries to reiterate their message that the OPEC+ decision was purely an economic decision and was based on market conditions, not politics.
Game Status: Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Oman, Sudan, Morocco and Egypt all made statements stressing that the decision was taken by consensus and was technical, not political.
- Jordan also issued a statement of support for Saudi Arabia, but called for direct US-Saudi Arabia dialogue to resolve the crisis.
What you say: A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
- But the Saudi Embassy tweeted a statement Monday stressing that it views the relationship with the US as strategic and that OPEC+’s decision was based on economics, not politics.
go deeper: Biden’s new Saudi strategy
Axios’ Ben Geman provided additional coverage of this story.