Reports of a planned visit by US President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia have come under sharp criticism. According to Axios, Biden's advisers are discussing a possible visit to the kingdom this spring to help repair relations and convince Riyadh to increase oil production.
As the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia is perfectly placed to make up for the shortfall in any disruption to supply if Western countries move to expand their boycott of Russia to oil and gas.
Russia, one of the largest oil producing countries and a member of OPEC+, is the second largest exporter of crude after Saudi Arabia. Though Europe is heavily reliant on Moscow for crude oil and natural gas, there are talks of extending sanctions to where it would hurt Russia the most following Moscow's attack on Ukraine.
US officials were in Venezuela this weekend in the first high-level discussions between the two countries in years, to meet with the government of President Nicolas Maduro. US broke off relations with Maduro in 2019 and has been among the few international figures to assure Russian President Vladimir Putin of his "strong support" in the wake of the invasion.
If a similar U-turn is made by the US, it will be President Biden's first trip to Riyadh marking a major shift in his attitude towards to Gulf state. During the 2020 campaign, Biden called the kingdom a "pariah", and early in his term, released an unclassified report assessing that the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had approved the operation to "capture or kill" Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Last month the Saudis appeared to reject a plea by the US president to increase oil production in a bid to reduce rising prices and inflation. The apparent snub came after a high-profile call between Biden and King Salman, during which the president reaffirmed US "commitment to support" the kingdom against retaliatory attacks by Yemen's Houthi-aligned armed forces.
The White House has not confirmed the visit and Arabic language Saudi sources have denied that such a visit has been planned. Nevertheless, reports of the trip have provoked a backlash. "Our response to [Russian President] 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," said Congresswomen Ilhan Omar. "Yemenis might not matter to some geopolitically, but their humanity should. This is a wildly immoral act."
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.
Yemenis might not matter to some geopolitically but their humanity should. This is wildly immoral act. https://t.co/xv3aHzcFht
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 7, 2022