Joe Biden warned that Saudi Arabia would face “consequences” for defying Washington by announcing large cuts to oil production last week as he vowed to re-evaluate the US relationship with Riyadh in talks with Congress next month. “I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind. But there will be consequences,” the US president told CNN in an interview on Tuesday night. “When the House and Senate get back [after the midterm elections] . . . there’s going to be some consequences.” Last week Opec+, which is led by Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and Russia, announced that it would cut its oil production targets by 2mn barrels a day, despite pressure from Washington not to go ahead with the move. Saudi Arabia said the cartel took the decision because of market conditions amid fears of a global recession, and to preserve prices as the kingdom pushes ahead with highly ambitious plans to modernise the conservative nation. But the move infuriated the Biden administration as it prepares for midterm elections next month and as the world grapples with soaring energy inflation triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden’s vow to punish Saudi Arabia for the decision by the kingdom and other oil producers to slash oil production came as he downplayed the risk of a deep downturn in the US economy even as the IMF issued a gloomy global forecast in 2023. “I don’t think there will be a recession,” Biden said of the US. “If it is, it’ll be a very slight recession. That is, we’ll move down slightly.” Biden has come under increasing pressure from Democrats in Congress to take a much tougher line against Saudi Arabia after a move that many on Capitol Hill saw as a betrayal of the countries’ longstanding strategic and economic ties. Some have called for the possible halt of most arms sales to Riyadh, while others have championed legislation to take aim at oil cartels. The president defended his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia in July, where he greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump, saying the visit was not about “oil” but about demonstrating that the US was “not going to walk away from the Middle East”. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud sought to play down the rift, saying the US “is the primary strategic and security partner for Saudi Arabia”. “I think that when politicians in America assess the relationship in its entirety, they will recognise its importance and the benefits it brings and they will continue to co-operate with Saudi Arabia. We are keen on this co-operation,” he told the Saudi-owned broadcaster Al-Arabiya in an interview on Tuesday night. Biden also spoke at length about Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has escalated sharply in recent days with Moscow’s bombing campaign against several cities in response to an attack on the Kerch bridge connecting Russia to Crimea. Biden called Vladimir Putin a “rational actor who has miscalculated significantly” and said he did not believe Russia would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Last week, Biden said he feared the risk of “Armageddon” was at its highest since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
The president also sought to explain what he meant last week when he referred to a possible “off-ramp” for Putin that would allow for de-escalation: “Clearly, he could leave, he could flat-out leave.” Biden said he had no intention of meeting Putin at next month’s G20 summit in Indonesia, but might do so if he was approached about the release of Brittney Griner, the American basketball player jailed in Russia. With midterm elections less than a month away, Biden also touted his domestic accomplishments. His low approval ratings have been a liability for Democratic lawmakers in tough Senate and House races. “Look what I’ve gotten done. Name me a president in recent history who has gotten as much done as I have in the first two years. Not a joke,” Biden said. He has also faced growing questions about his viability in terms of seeking a second term in the White House. “I believe I can beat Donald Trump again,” Biden said.