Skip to main content

US-Saudi military ties remain on course despite OPEC dispute

The White House is signaling it could hold up further arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but so far the rare public dispute has not impacted direct military cooperation between Washington and Riyadh.
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One before departing from King Abdulaziz International Airport at the end of his first tour in the Middle East as president, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022.

TAMPA, Florida – Direct military coordination between the United States and Saudi Arabia remains on schedule despite the two countries’ public dispute over OPEC’s recent decision to slash oil production, according to US officials.

The White House postponed a working group meeting set for today between US and Gulf Cooperation Council representatives in response to the oil cartel’s Oct. 5 announcement, which comes ahead of key midterm elections in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Senior civilian officials at the Pentagon were scheduled to attend the meeting to discuss advancing Washington’s proposal to integrate missile and air defense networks across the Middle East as a defensive bulwark against Iran, officials told Al-Monitor.

On Capitol Hill last week, key lawmakers from Biden’s own party vowed to block arms sales to Riyadh over the OPEC+ decision, accusing the kingdom of siding with Russia in its war against Ukraine.

But behind closed doors, the steady pace of meetings between the top brass at US Central Command (CENTCOM) and senior generals from OPEC member nations is thus far expected to continue, officials say.

The head of all American troops in the Middle East, US Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, and his aides arrived in the region on Sunday ahead of a regular summit with regional defense chiefs this week, Al-Monitor has learned.

CENTCOM’s deputy director of operations, Brig. Gen. John Cogbill, is also scheduled to sit down with counterparts in the Gulf before the end of the month to continue discussions about ways forward on regional military cooperation, including on air and missile defense. 

Why it matters: The continued coordination suggests the White House is seeking to compartmentalize the damage from what appears to be one of few historic nadirs in the seven-decade relationship between Washington and Riyadh.

Biden said earlier this month his administration would impose “consequences” for oil-producing bloc’s decision to cut 2 million barrels per day, which comes as Europe faces a looming energy crisis and threatens to undermine US-led efforts to economically isolate Russia over its war against Ukraine.

White House national security coordinator John Kirby stated last week that the president would “reevaluate” ties with the Saudi kingdom, but later clarified that that does not entail a formal policy review.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials are steering clear of the dispute in the hope that military ties will continue to serve as an anchor for the broader US partnership with Saudi Arabia, as they have during previous diplomatic storms.

“Our purview is, until directed otherwise, to maintain military-to-military relations,” a US defense official told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity.

What’s next: The White House is signaling that it's willing to work with top Democrats in Congress who have called for curtailing arms sales to Riyadh.

Last week, the chair of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), called for an unprecedented halt to “all aspects of security cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests.”

Shortly after taking office, Biden barred transfers of offensive weapon systems to the kingdom, but could potentially further leverage the large bureaucratic backlog of pending US arms sales to Gulf states — a source of irritation among leaders in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, according to current and former officials close to the discussions.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged on Sunday that the administration remains open to “changes to our approach to security assistance to Saudi Arabia.”

Sullivan reiterated that Biden would wait until Congress returns from recess after the midterm elections to consult with lawmakers from both parties on how to move forward.

“The president isn’t going to act precipitously,” Sullivan emphasized on CNN. “What I will say is there’s nothing imminent.”

Know more: Read Amberin Zaman’s piece on Menendez's continued opposition to the Biden administration’s plans to use F-16 sales to salvage battered ties with NATO ally Turkey.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Gulf Briefing Gulf Briefing

Gulf Briefing

Top GCC stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial