© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) walks through the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Democratic chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on Monday for a freeze on cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including most arms sales, accusing the kingdom of helping underwrite the Russian war on Ukraine after OPEC+ announced last week it would cut oil production.
The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel agreed to cut output by an amount equal to about 2% of global supply, curbing production in a tight market and raising the possibility of higher gasoline prices as Washington seeks to limit Russia’s energy revenue after its invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, rebuked the group’s cut as “shortsighted” as the world deals with the impacts of Russia’s war, the White House said.
Senator Bob Menendez called for aggressive action in another sign of the growing rift between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
“The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend U.S. personnel and interests,” Menendez said in a statement.
“I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough,” Menendez said.
Menendez said he was horrified about attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
“There simply is no room to play both sides of this conflict – either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping off an entire country off of the map, or you support him,” Menendez said in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a terrible decision driven by economic self-interest.”
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oil prices leapt to a five-week high on Friday, two days after the OPEC+ cut, but slipped on Monday, with international benchmark Brent crude settling about 1.8% down at $96.19 a barrel on worries about a potential global recession.
High oil prices are a vulnerability for Biden’s fellow Democrats in the Nov. 8 U.S. midterm elections, when they are defending their control of Congress.
The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees review major international arms deals, which generally do not go ahead without their approval.
Saudi Arabia is the largest customer for U.S.-made military equipment.