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Biden mulls OPEC response amid questions over Saudi arms sales

Democratic members of the
US Congress have called for a sharp reduction in military sales to
Saudi Arabia, as President Joe Biden considered how
to respond to plans by OPEC+ nations to cut oil output.

OPEC+, which combines OPEC countries and allies such as
Russia, agreed to steep oil production cuts on Wednesday,
curbing supply in a tight market and raising the possibility of
higher gasoline prices right before the November 8 US midterm
elections, when Biden’s Democrats are defending their control of
the House of Representatives and Senate.

“I think it’s time for a wholesale re-evaluation of the US
alliance with Saudi Arabia,” Senator Chris Murphy, chairman of
the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on the Middle East,
told CNBC on Thursday.

In the House, representatives Tom Malinowski, Sean Casten
and Susan Wild introduced legislation seeking the withdrawal of
US troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Representative Ruben Gallego suggested the United States
take back Patriot missile defence systems deployed in Saudi
Arabia. “If they like the Russians so much they can use their
very ‘reliable’ military technology,” Gallego said on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia is the largest customer of US-made military
equipment, with billions of dollars in orders approved by the
State and Defense departments each year. In August, the Biden
administration announced a sale to Saudi Arabia of Patriot
missile interceptors and equipment worth up to $3.05 billion.

Raytheon Technologies was the prime contractor for
the Patriot interceptors.

Lawmakers have the right to review major arms sales and to
stop them under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. But
Congress has never been able to garner enough votes to stop a
sale, including three failed efforts to override former president Donald Trump’s 2019 vetoes of resolutions that would
have stopped sales to the Saudis.

It was not clear that the United States would be able to
take back any Patriot system or other military equipment already
transferred or sold to Saudi Arabia.

READ MORE: OPEC+ agrees major oil output cut, irking US

US assessing response after OPEC+ decision

“As a practical matter, it is exceedingly difficult to
imagine a scenario in which the president authorises the
deployment of a ‘military repo force’ to Saudi Arabia to recover
previously sold defence articles because he disagrees with OPEC
on petroleum output,” said Franklin Turner, a government
contracts lawyer at McCarter & English.

In addition, there would be “immense logistical challenges”
associated with such an operation, Turner said, adding such an
act would severely strain diplomatic relations with the kingdom.

Biden’s economic adviser Brian Deese was asked on Thursday
why US taxpayers should offer US weaponry and defence
support to Saudi Arabia in light of the OPEC+ decision.

Deese told reporters on Air Force One he had no

“As we mentioned yesterday, we will be assessing
and consulting closely with Congress around a range of issues on
the back end of this and beyond that,” Deese said.

READ MORE: OPEC+ agrees to cut oil output as it seeks to lift prices

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