Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman threatened to move the country closer to Russia and China to punish President Joe Biden for distancing himself from the kingdom, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Since coming to power, the Biden administration has criticized Saudi human-rights abuses, reeled in US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and shunned Crown Prince Mohammed — colloquially known as MBS. Also, Biden has yet to meet him in person.
In February 2021, the US sanctioned dozens of Saudis believed to have played a role in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince wasn’t directly affected by the sanctions.
In response, the Journal, citing Saudi officials, reported that MBS, his advisors, and his father, King Salman, met last year at a seaside palace to discuss what further punishments Biden may have in store and how the kingdom could get ahead of them.
The group discussed releasing more political prisoners to appease Biden, the Journal reported, but Crown Prince Mohammed instead said Saudi Arabia should threaten to solidify alliances with Russia and China.
Saudi Arabia released its most high-profile political detainee, the right-to-drive activist Loujain al-Hathloul, in February 2021. Several others were released in her wake.
A State Department spokesperson told Insider: “We remain committed to building a strong, sustainable US-Saudi strategic partnership that accounts for a broad range of US interests and values.”
It is unclear whether the crown prince actually threatened the US with a move toward China and Russia, but it is clear that Saudi Arabia has grown closer to China since last year, deepening ties militarily, culturally, and economically.
In that time, the Saudi-US relationship has worsened, with the Saudis upset that the US is failing to guarantee its security in the face of strikes on the Arabian Peninsula by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has also failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it’s sought to avoid upsetting Russia by ignoring US requests for it to increase oil output to make up for the White House’s ban on Russian oil imports.
The Journal, citing Middle East and US officials, reported that Crown Prince Mohammed ignored Biden’s phone calls as the US tried to woo the Saudis for more oil.