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White House: Biden will work with Congress to ‘re-evaluate’ relationship with Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters/provided by CNN)

(CNN) — President Joe Biden feels that the US’ relationship with Saudi Arabia needs to be re-evaluated in the wake of the OPEC+ decision last week to decrease oil production, a National Security Council spokesman said.

In an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said Biden is “willing to work with Congress as we think about what the right relationship with Saudi Arabia needs to be going forward.”

“I think the President’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to reevaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit. And certainly, in light of the OPEC decision, I think that’s where he is, and he’s willing to work with Congress to think through what that relationship ought to look like going forward,” he said.

The comments came after Keilar pressed Kirby on strong words from Senate Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez tying the US-Saudi relationship to Russia’s war as he argued the US should end the relationship. The New Jersey Democrat called for an immediate freeze in US-Saudi relations after OPEC announced decreasing oil production last week, pledging that he “will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine.”

The Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel announced last week it would cut output by 2 million barrels per day. The decision by the grouping of major oil producers rebuffed heavy lobbying from US administration officials and prompted Biden to say he was concerned about the move. It reversed a small increase in output OPEC+ announced shortly after Biden visited Saudi Arabia for a conference in July.

Earlier this year, Biden announced a major release of barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to alleviate pump prices. On Tuesday, the White House said it was not considering additional releases beyond the 180 million previously announced.

But after OPEC+ announced its decision on Wednesday, the White House said Biden would “continue to direct SPR releases as necessary,” apparently cracking open the door again to potential releases.

Another top Senate Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Tuesday that Saudi Arabia “clearly” wants Russia to win the war in Ukraine and told CNN’s John Berman on ‘New Day’: “Let’s be very candid about this: it is Putin and Saudi Arabia against the United States.”

“I think it’s time for us to imagine a foreign policy where we do not count on Saudi Arabia,” Durbin said, calling the OPEC+ decision to slash oil production “as clear a declaration by the Saudis that they are on the other side of history as we can ask for.”

When asked what he’s heard from the White House about his and Menendez’s latest push, “I have not heard. I’m not going to manufacture something here. I can just tell you that the sentiment in the Senate is strong in terms of what the Saudi Arabians have done, this notion that they’re going to raise our gasoline prices and we’re supposed to look the other way and call them good old boys. To heck with that. I mean, this is a terrible regime. It is a kingdom in the 21st century that shouldn’t be out of business.”

Durbin said he is glad Biden tried to reach out to the Saudis to show that the United States was willing to sit down with them, but Durbin said ultimately, Biden’s “little fist bump there, it wasn’t worth anything,” adding, “I don’t believe we can trust them in the future when it comes to the key elements and security interests in the United States.”