The American flag is missing during Blinken reception by Prince Ben Salman – this is a serious gesture of dissatisfaction with US policy on the part of the Saudi leadership.
After President Biden vowed to impose ‘consequences’ on Saudi Arabia for slashing oil production last year, Prince Mohammed bin Salman privately threatened to sever ties and retaliate economically, according to a classified U.S. intelligence document, writes “The Washington Post”.
Last fall, President Biden vowed to impose “consequences” on Saudi Arabia for its decision to slash oil production amid high energy prices and fast-approaching elections in the United States.
In public, the Saudi government defended its actions politely via diplomatic statements. But in private, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman threatened to fundamentally alter the decades-old U.S.-Saudi relationship and impose significant economic costs on the United States if it retaliated against the oil cuts, according to a classified document obtained by The Washington Post.
The crown prince claimed “he will not deal with the U.S. administration anymore,” the document says, promising “major economic consequences for Washington.”
Dozens of highly classified documents have been leaked online, revealing sensitive information intended for senior military and intelligence leaders. In an exclusive investigation, The Post also reviewed scores of additional secret documents, most of which have not been made public.
Eight months later, Biden has yet to impose consequences on the Arab country and Mohammed has continued to engage with top U.S. officials, as he did with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the seaside Saudi city of Jiddah this week.
It is unclear whether the crown prince’s threat was conveyed directly to U.S. officials or intercepted through electronic eavesdropping, but his dramatic outburst reveals the tension at the heart of a relationship long premised on oil-for-security but rapidly evolving as China takes a growing interest in the Middle East and the United States assesses its own interests as the world’s largest oil producer.
A spokesperson with the National Security Council said, “we are not aware of such threats by Saudi Arabia.” “In general, such documents often represent only one snapshot of a moment in time and cannot possibly offer the full picture,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence matter.
Biden, who pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” as a presidential candidate, scarcely communicates with the crown prince but the president’s top aides have gradually rebuilt ties with him hoping the two nations can work together on pressing issues, including a long-sought peace deal in Yemen, a sustained cease-fire in Sudan, counterterrorism challenges and continued disagreements over the supply of oil.
U.S. officials say the U.S.-Saudi relationship is too important to let languish given Riyadh’s economic and political clout and Beijing’s courtship of traditional U.S. partners in the Middle East.
Blinken met with the crown prince, also known as MBS, for an hour and 40 minutes on Tuesday during this three-day visit to the kingdom, U.S. officials said. The men had a “candid, open” conversation that included U.S. efforts to broker normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the conflict in Yemen, human rights and the fighting in Sudan.
Following Blinken’s meetings, differences appeared to remain over Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to generate nuclear power, seen by Washington and others as a potential proliferation risk, and the notion that the United States has a right to admonish the kingdom over its human rights record.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister noted that while Riyadh would welcome U.S. support in building its civilian nuclear program, “there are others that are bidding,” a not-so-subtle reminder that the kingdom could deepen its cooperation with China on the initiative.
On human rights, he struck a defiant note, saying Saudi leaders “don’t respond to pressure.”
“When we do anything, we do it in our own interests. And I don’t think that anybody believes that pressure is useful or helpful, and therefore that’s not something that we are going to even consider,” he said.
Blinken’s visit caps a steady stream of high-level U.S. meetings in the kingdom in recent months, including trips by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA Director William J. Burns, Biden’s top Middle East adviser Brett McGurk, and his senior energy security official Amos Hochstein.
The surge of meetings appeared to serve as a counterweight to the frosty personal relations between Biden and Mohammed, said David Ottaway, a Gulf scholar at the Wilson Center, noting that the two leaders have not spoken since their meeting in Riyadh last July.
“The Biden administration decided it had to figure out how to work with MBS even if Biden and he still do not talk to each other,” Ottaway said.