Kirby: Biden willing to reevaluate relationship with Saudi Arabia ‘right away’

White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday said President Biden is willing to immediately begin reevaluating the U.S.-Saudi alliance after the country and its oil-exporting allies announced production cuts of 2 million barrels per day.

The White House expressed disappointment after the announcement from OPEC+, which includes the 13 OPEC nations and 11 non-members including Russia, and some Democratic lawmakers have since called for freezing American arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia.

“I think the timeline is now, and I think he’s going to be willing to start to have those conversations right away,” Kirby told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day” of Biden’s plans to reevaluate the relationship.

The OPEC+ cut will reduce global oil supply by about 2 percent, putting upward pressure on gasoline and energy prices that are already elevated and contribute to high inflation. Those high prices have caused headaches as the winter approaches and residents increase demand by turning on their heating systems, especially in Europe.

“I don’t think this is anything that’s going to have to wait, or should wait quite frankly, for much longer,” Kirby continued. “You mention the winter coming, clearly that’s a factor here, but more importantly for the president, it’s really about our own national security.”

The U.S. has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and stationed U.S. troops in the country for years. 

The longstanding military alliance has persisted through what has at times been a rocky relationship, including after the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. 

U.S. intelligence concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved his killing, leading to an outcry from human rights advocates and Biden, who during his 2020 campaign said he would make the Saudis a “pariah” state.

But weeks after average gas prices peaked at more than $5 per gallon nationwide, Biden reversed course in July and traveled to Saudi Arabia to appeal to the crown prince. Saudi Arabia and its OPEC+ allies subsequently announced small oil production increases before implementing the latest cut.

“I think the president’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to re-evaluate, that we need to be willing to to revisit,” Kirby said on CNN. “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.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday called for a freezing of U.S. cooperation with the Saudis, including arms sales and security assistance.

Menendez’s statement came one day after two other Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.) similarly called for the U.S. to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

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