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Biden criticised over potential trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss oil production

Ilhan Omar criticises possible deepening of US ties with Saudi Arabia, citing the devastating seven-year war in Yemen
Joe Biden during an event at the White House complex on 4 March, 2022 (AFP)

The Biden administration is facing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans after a report claimed the White House was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia to "help repair relations" and convince the kingdom to pump more oil amid fears of a global supply shortage.

The potential trip would take place in the next few months, however officials cautioned that it may not happen, Axios reported.

"We don't have any international travel to announce at this time, and a lot of this is premature speculation," a White House spokesperson told Axios.

News of the potential trip comes as oil prices have soared by 10 percent amid US and European threats to ban Russian oil over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

In recent months, Biden has repeatedly called on Gulf countries to pump more oil to reduce prices but Saudi Arabia, the world's third-largest oil exporter, has declined the requests, instead sticking to an agreement not to pump more oil than the output decided last year by Opec and Russia.

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The kingdom is currently pumping out around 10 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), but has the capacity to produce nearly 12 million bpd.

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After seeing the Axios news report, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar slammed the prospect of Washington deepening ties with Riyadh, highlighting the Saudi-led war in Yemen which has forced 80 percent of the country to depend on aid for survival.

"Our response to Putin's immoral war shouldn’t be to strengthen our relationship with the Saudis who are currently causing the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet in Yemen," Omar tweeted.

"Yemenis might not matter to some geopolitically but their humanity should. This is a wildly immoral act."

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers also criticised the possible trip, saying any potential outreach to Saudi Arabia underscored the need to increase domestic oil production.

"Biden's team would rather fly to Saudi Arabia, a country with whom we have a dicey relationship, to pump more oil rather than produce more energy right here at home. Everything this administration does is just so backwards," said Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez.

Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, echoed Gimenez's remarks, saying: "America can easily replace #PutinOil by producing more of our own.

"Instead the Biden plan is to beg Saudi Arabia to produce more, buy more from a narco terrorist #MaduroRegime in #Venezuela [and] cut a deal with the [world's] leading state sponsor of terror in #Iran."

According to the New York Times, Biden administration officials flew to Caracas on Saturday to discuss easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil.

'Simply, I do not care'

Saudi-US relations have faced several challenges since Biden assumed office last year, with the White House halting the sale of offensive weapons to Riyadh and criticising the war effort in Yemen.

The Biden administration also signed off on the release of a CIA document that blamed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for the murder of Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden has not met with bin Salman and has repeatedly critcised the heir apparent.

However, in recent months, the administration has appeared to do a u-turn regarding the kingdom, approving arms sales to Riyadh, Egypt, and other allies in the Middle East despite concerns the arms would be used to violate human rights.

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Last week, in a wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic, Bin Salman suggested that Saudi Arabia may seek a closer relationship with China if the US-Saudi relationship continues to devolve.

"I believe other people in the East are going to be super happy."

Bin Salman also suggested that Riyadh could choose to reduce investments in the US due to the strained relationship.

"Simply, I do not care," the crown prince said when asked whether Biden misunderstood things about him," adding, it was up to Biden "to think about the interests of America".

"We don't have the right to lecture you in America. The same goes the other way."

King Salman, who spent time in hospital in 2020, has largely stepped back from an active role in diplomacy and government, though reports of his declining health have been denied by Saudi officials.

As well as being his father's heir, Bin Salman is also the defence minister and is in overall charge of the Saudi economy and its investment funds. He also routinely meets visiting foreign dignitaries and conducts diplomacy with foreign leaders.

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