The US president warns that he will reassess relations with Riyadh when the Senate resumes its sessions
Since the conspiracy theory spread in 1980 that Ronald Reagan had agreed with Ayatollah Khomeini to delay the release of the hostages captured in the US embassy and thus win the election against Jimmy Carter, the so-called “October surprise” plans every two years on the US elections, which are always held in November. This time the bomb has corresponded to Saudi Arabia, with the announcement that OPEC will reduce its oil production by two million barrels, which a month before the legislative elections could mean a death sentence for the Democratic aspirations to maintain control of the cameras, doubtful in itself.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden responded to pressure from his party to use a heavy hand against increasingly inconvenient ally Riyadh. “When the Senate meets again we are going to rethink relations with Saudi Arabia,” he threatened in an interview with CNN. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose friendship with the Trump family is well known, had surely calculated this retaliation. If the increase in the price of gasoline is combined with inflation and the weakness of the Democratic Party in these elections, it is very likely that Biden will not have a chance to carry out his threat, because the Republicans could take control of both chambers in January. if they win the elections next day 8.
There are many who think that Biden’s reaction is late. During the campaign he promised to turn the Saudi kingdom “into a pariah” of the United States, but the energy crisis of the invasion of Ukraine and the influence of the coordinator of his National Security Council, Brett McGurk, made him break this promise and pay homage to the killer of ‘Washington Post’ journalist Jamal Khashoggi with a humiliating visit last July, in which he bumped knuckles with the heir to the Saudi crown. From the beginning it was known that this was not going well. The prince sent the provincial governor to receive him, instead of some high-ranking government official, and very shortly after the meeting he took it upon himself to leak that Biden had not asked him for an explanation for Khashoggi’s murder. The decision to reduce oil production, a month before the elections, would be the culmination of his revenge for having severely criticized him during the campaign and for having suspended military aid destined to fuel his offensive against Yemen.
Mohamed bin Salmán’s calculation has a risk. If the predictions fail and the Democrats retain control of the Senate, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez has vowed to come down on them with everything he’s got. From severe laws to hold Saudi oil companies accountable for any leak, to the abrupt end of any military contract, which is what has fueled relations between the two countries since 1940. Yesterday, Menéndez upped the ante and asked on MSNBC what would happen to the lawsuits filed by the families of the victims of 9/11, who blame Riyadh for being behind the attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
“The United States has to freeze all aspects of cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Menéndez demanded. “If Saudi Arabia, which is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, wants to associate with Russia to skyrocket the price of gasoline, let Putin defend him,” said Senator Bernie Sanders.
Washington is also in danger of further aggravating damaged relations, which affect not only its own economy but also that of the global energy crisis. Perhaps that is why the State Department has been quick to say that it has no plans to suspend arms sales to that country, which has infuriated Democratic legislators who are playing for their seats in these elections. Biden’s alternative to offset OPEC crude, which already directs 80% of its production to Asia, is to look to Venezuela, which could be the great beneficiary of this rupture if it knows how to play its cards well. For this, Nicolás Maduro will have to be able to make concessions on political and human rights issues with which to appease the resentment of Cuban-American senators like Menéndez.
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