WASHINGTON – Nearly three dozen House Democrats are pushing the administration to get tougher with Saudi Arabia, calling it a bad strategic partner after it has refused to help ease the world’s oil supply crunch during Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and senior member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Rules, led lawmakers in a letter asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a “recalibration” of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Joe Biden started out his presidency freezing out the kingdom's crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, over Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen and abuses including the killing of American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Tight oil supply and rising oil prices that are driving inflation have led the Biden administration to try to improve its relationship with Saudi rulers since then, however.
Blinken and other U.S. diplomats and military leaders have called on Saudi officials, dialed back public criticism of Saudi imprisonment of dissidents, and emphasized U.S. defensive support for the kingdom against cross-border missile attacks on Saudi oil sites and other targets by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
There are no signs the U.S. overtures have assuaged affronted Saudi rulers, and the kingdom has refused to make the drastic increases in oil pumping that the U.S. hopes for.
The House Democrats' letter noted the kingdom's ongoing harsh treatment of rights advocates and the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded Prince Mohammed ordered.
And currently, the Democrats wrote, Saudi Arabia is doing nothing to help the West as it tries to freeze out Russia for its war in Ukraine. Russia is a top global oil and gas producer, and the conflict has worsened an already tight global oil supply.
"Instead of accepting appeals from our government to produce more oil, an initial step that would immediately lower prices for Americans across the country," Saudi rulers are reportedly talking with China about pricing part of its oil sales in the Chinese yuan, a move that could weaken the U.S. dollar, the Democrats wrote.
“Governments that have formed genuine, ironclad alliances with the United States, forged in shared values of democratic norms and respect for human rights, have answered the call to action in the wake of unprovoked invasion. Unfortunately, our long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not produced a similar response,” Democrats wrote.
“Saudi Arabia’s inability to stand up for international law exemplifies the short- and long-term risks associated with maintaining uncritical U.S. support for the Saudi regime,” the letter added. It asked Blinken to rebalance U.S. dealings with Saudi Arabia accordingly.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington separately said Wednesday it would provide up to $10 million in support for Ukrainian refugees.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.