House Democrats ask Biden to prioritize oil, humanitarian issues ahead of potential Saudi meeting

The Democratic chairs of six House panels are asking President Biden to lay out a list of priorities ahead of a potential meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman that include addressing humanitarian issues in the kingdom and accountability in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The lawmakers wrote a letter to Biden dated Tuesday that sought to “share our views on the American relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

The reported meeting between Biden and Crown Prince Mohammad, which has yet to be formally confirmed by the White House, is said to also include talks about increasing oil production as domestic gas prices reach sky-high rates. Riyadh has sought to preserve its relationship with Moscow even as the U.S. has led a campaign to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. 

The expected meeting would mark a stark reversal of the president’s remarks on the campaign trail in which he called the kingdom a “pariah.” 

While acknowledging Saudi Arabia as “an important U.S. partner,” the Democratic lawmakers also called out the kingdom’s leadership in acting “in ways at odds with U.S. policy and values,” referring to the year that the crown prince asserted power.

“Of most immediate relevance, Saudi Arabia’s refusal to stabilize global energy markets is helping bankroll Vladimir Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine, while inflicting economic pain on everyday Americans,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was among the lawmakers who signed the letter, had earlier condemned the expected meeting on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, saying that Mohammad should be “shunned.”

In the letter, lawmakers lay out a list of demands they are calling on the president to deliver on regarding the administration’s strategy to “recalibrate” the relationship with the kingdom, to include commitments to stabilize global energy markets and abandon agreements it reached with Moscow within OPEC+, the larger grouping of the largest petroleum exporting countries. 

Lawmakers also called for the president to continue the suspension of U.S. offensive military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war while pushing for multiparty peace talks. 

They also want the president to call for an end to the kingdom’s arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and other human rights abuses, and demand accountability for the “murder of journalist and American legal resident Jamal Khashoggi.” 

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed approved a plot to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, but the administration withheld sanctions on the crown prince in an effort to preserve relations with the kingdom. 

“The highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are culpable in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and there is no escaping that stark truth laid bare in the U.S. Intelligence Community’s 2021 public assessment. We must continue to insist on justice for this horrific crime,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Lawmakers further called on the president to stand “firm to U.S. policy on robust safeguards for any civil nuclear cooperation,” and “underscore the risks of greater Saudi cooperation with China.”

“We stand ready to work with you on advancing this agenda and request that senior members of your national security team brief Congress on these issues ahead of and following your trip,” the members wrote. “Pursuing these straightforward measures would achieve your goal of a recalibrated U.S.-Saudi relationship that serves both U.S. interests and values.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform National Security Subcommittee. 

Tags Adam Schiff Biden Jamal Khashoggi Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia–United States relations
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