Biden Saudi Visit Unlikely to Lead to Breakthrough

Biden Saudi Visit Unlikely to Lead to Breakthrough
Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough in U.S.-Saudi relations.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough in U.S.-Saudi relations, according to Torbjorn Soltvedt, a principal MENA analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“Despite Biden’s ambition to reframe the kingdom as a friend rather than a pariah, the outlook for bilateral relations is negative,” Soltvedt said in a statement sent to Rigzone on Wednesday.

“On the energy front, U.S. calls on Saudi Arabia to increase the rate of oil production have fallen on deaf ears. This is unlikely to change,” he added in the statement.

“Aside from uncertainty over Saudi spare capacity, it is now too late for a shift in Saudi oil production to impact petrol prices in the U.S. ahead of November’s midterm elections. OPEC+ supply restraint is also set to end in September in any case, paving the way for a steady increase in Saudi oil supply over the coming months,” the Verisk analyst continued.

According to Soltvedt, one of the biggest obstacles to closer U.S.-Saudi oil market coordination is the lack of close ties at the executive level between the Biden administration and the Saudi political leadership under the de-facto rule of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“Steps taken by both sides have contributed to this deterioration,” the analyst noted.

“On the Saudi side, scepticism of the Biden administration has been high from the outset due to the president’s previous role in the Obama administration. The Obama presidency proved highly unpopular in Riyadh, mainly due to its decision to seek a nuclear agreement with Iran without consulting Riyadh,” Soltvedt added.

“On the U.S. side, the decision by Biden to not deal directly with MBS in February 2021 has only reinforced Saudi fears. It has also left the Biden administration at a diplomatic disadvantage as it now seeks a shift in Saudi oil policy,” he went on to say.

Soltvedt also noted that structural factors make the task of mending bilateral ties even more difficult.

“Most importantly, the center of gravity of Saudi oil exports is shifting east,” he stated.

“Over the last two years the implicit energy and security bargain between the two countries has increasingly been brought out into the open where it has become exposed to criticism and scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers,” Soltvedt added.

“Saudi Arabia fears that this will reinforce what is already a growing perception that the U.S. is gradually disengaging from the region. The question of why the U.S. should underwrite the security of Saudi oil exports will only become more pressing and vocal in Congress over the coming years, especially if relations with Saudi Arabia continue to weaken,” Soltvedt continued.

Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed in a press briefing this week that Biden would depart on a trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, “where he will attend a major Middle Eastern summit”. 

“This trip will reinforce a vital American role in a strategically consequential region. And also, it will reinforce that our role is different today than it was 20 years ago on the eve of the war in Iraq,” Sullivan added in the briefing.

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