Senate Majority Leader Urges US to Halt Cooperation with Saudis

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has proposed a moratorium on all US engagement with Saudi Arabia, including arms sales.

Senate Majority Leader Urges US to Halt Cooperation with Saudis
Gas prices are announced at more than $8 per gallon at a gas station in Los Angeles on Thursday, October 6, 2022.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez demanded Monday that all US collaboration with Saudi Arabia be halted, offering one of the sharpest displays of US outrage over Saudi oil output restrictions to aid Russia in its war in Ukraine.

Menendez expressly urged in a statement for cutting off all arms sales and security cooperation — one of the pillars of the United States' more than 70-year strategic engagement with the oil kingdom — beyond what is required to safeguard Americans and American interests.

Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, promised as committee chairman that he "would not green-light any collaboration with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position on the war in Ukraine." "Enough already."

His remarks came only four days after Saudi Arabia and Russia led OPEC members in announcing a 2 million barrel per day reduction in oil output. The cuts spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and Russia assist to maintain high oil prices, allowing President Vladimir Putin to continue funding his eight-month war of Ukraine. The output decrease also undermines US-led attempts to make Russia's war financially unsustainable, threatens a global economy already destabilized by the Ukraine conflict, and risks saddling President Joe Biden and Democrats with increased gasoline costs just ahead of the US midterm elections.

Menendez's remark on Monday joins a rising number of Democrats who have called for a halt to billions of dollars in yearly US military shipments to Saudi Arabia since the announcement by OPEC members and Russia.

The Democrats accuse Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, of effectively violating the Saudi side of a decades-long bargain in which the US military and defense industry provided security for Saudi Arabia in exchange for Saudi Arabia providing a reliable flow of oil to world markets.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was among Democrats who chastised Prince Mohammed for appearing to embrace Putin's incursion.

Schumer stated at the time that senators were considering legislative alternatives to deal with Saudi Arabia's "appalling and highly cynical behaviour."

Within a day following OPEC's decision, Democratic legislators introduced fresh legislation to halt US arms sales to the country. Given Menendez's critical role in shepherding foreign policy legislation, Menendez's move on Monday enhances the possibility that Congress may act to penalize the Saudis during the lame-duck session following the November elections.

It's unclear how far Menendez and other Democrats would go in terms of shutting off arms agreements and most other forms of collaboration with Saudi Arabia, or whether the Biden administration would agree. Last week, Biden expressed disappointment with Saudi Arabia's involvement in the current oil output decrease and stated that the government was considering options.

Last week's oil output restrictions were one of the most severe yet in a string of blows to the US-Saudi alliance. They include the 2018 Saudi death of a journalist living in the United States, Jamal Khashoggi, in which the US intelligence community assessed the crown prince played a crucial role. Americans also criticize the crown prince for refusing to join US-led attempts to isolate and punish Putin for his February invasion of Ukraine, as well as for maintaining what appear to be close relations with Putin.

"There simply is no place to play both sides of this battle - either you support the rest of the free world in its efforts to prevent a war criminal from forcibly wiping a whole country off the map, or you support him," Menendez said in a statement. "In a dreadful decision driven by economic self-interest, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia selected the latter."

Biden had attempted to mend fences with Prince Mohammed, visiting Saudi Arabia in July to administer an uncomfortable fist bump in a conciliatory gesture.

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