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Democratic senator seeks 'freeze' on U.S.-Saudi cooperation after OPEC cuts production

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Saudi Arabia's decision to support the oil cut will help “underwrite” Russia's war in Ukraine.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a press conference after a Senate Democratic Caucus policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol, on Sept. 20, 2022.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a news conference after a Senate Democratic Caucus policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 20.Francis Chung / EENews/POLITICO via AP file

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is calling on the Biden administration to "immediately freeze" U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia after OPEC+ announced it would reduce daily oil production.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey condemned the move by Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the oil-producing alliance, in a statement Monday, arguing it would serve to "underwrite" Russian President Vladimir Putin's war 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. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a terrible decision driven by economic self-interest," Menendez said.

“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,” he added. "As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 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.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

OPEC+ last week announced the largest cut in production since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, frustrating the Biden administration and its Western allies.

The alliance said it would cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day, which is likely to increase gas prices. The group consists of 13 oil-exporting countries; Russia is among its 11 nonmember allied countries. Higher prices would help Putin finance the war in Ukraine because Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia.

Other Democrats, such Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, have also criticized Saudi Arabia in the wake of OPEC+’s announcement.

"What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans," Schumer tweeted, adding that lawmakers were looking at “all the legislative tools to best deal” with the oil production cut.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, accused Saudi Arabia of “conspiring with Vladimir Putin to punish the U.S. with higher oil prices” last week.

The Saudi royal family “has never been a trustworthy ally” of the U.S., Durbin said. “It’s time for our foreign policy to imagine a world without this alliance with these royal backstabbers.”

The Biden administration, meanwhile, called the move by OPEC+ “shortsighted.”

NBC News has asked the White House for comment on Menendez's vow that he "will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh."