Defending a move the White House has heavily criticized as helping Russia’s war in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has suggested the U.S. asked it to wait a month before it cut oil production. Although the Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry did not specifically mention the midterms in its lengthy and abrupt statement, such a delay in the OPEC+ supply reduction could have staved off price rises at American pumps until after the midterm elections. The White House has already stated that it is “categorically false to connect this to U.S. elections.”

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As Democrats hope to hold on to their slim majority in Congress, rising fuel costs are a key driver of inflation, which hit 8.2% in September and shows no sign of slowing down to remain top of mind for many Americans.

Any suggestion that it made a politically motivated request, the White House pushed back against. It was “categorically false to connect this to U.S. elections,” said Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokesperson.

Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, she added: “It’s always been about the impact on the global economy and impact on families at home and around the world, especially as Putin wages his war against Ukraine.”

This is the latest exchange to punctuate a delicate relationship between Washington and Riyadh, according to NBC News.

Before President Joe Biden traveled to the kingdom this summer to fist-bump Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a much-criticized overture to increase global oil production, he initially called the kingdom a “pariah.”

The appeal was rejected by the de facto head of OPEC+, Saudi Arabia, so the alliance instead announced that it would cut global supply by 2 million barrels, drawing heavy criticism from Biden and other Democrats, who saw it as siding with the Kremlin. Russia, an OPEC+ member, would benefit from rising prices, as it is an oil-exporting giant.

With Biden vowing “consequences” for a decision many viewed as a boon to Putin, some Democrats suggested the U.S. re-evaluate its entire relationship with the kingdom.

Releasing a long, pointed statement, Saudi Arabia hit back recently, in which, saying the decision was reached by consensus and made to “protect the global economy from oil-market volatility,” it rejected suggestions the cut was “politically motivated.”

“Attempts to distort the facts” were “unfortunate,” it said.

The statement added that the kingdom had “clarified through its continuous consultation with the U.S. administration that all economic analyses indicate that postponing the OPEC+ decision for a month, according to what has been suggested, would have had negative economic consequences.”

Mohammed Alyahya, a fellow at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, said: “It seems this is not about Russia but instead about the U.S. midterm elections.”

“The expectation that Saudi Arabia must manipulate global energy markets to influence domestic U.S. politics is absurd,” he added.

The White House flatly rejected a link that suggested some OPEC countries privately opposed the move.

Watson, the National Security Council spokesperson, said: “We presented Saudi Arabia with economic data in order for them to wait and understand the markets before making this shortsighted decision.”

Saudi Arabia was trying to “spin and deflect” on the issue, said the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby.

“We presented Saudi Arabia with analysis to show that there was no market basis to cut production targets and that they could easily wait for the next OPEC meeting to see how things developed,” he said in a statement.

“Other OPEC nations communicated to us privately that they also disagreed with the Saudi decision, but felt coerced to support Saudi’s direction,” Kirby added.

The decision to cut oil supply was about stabilizing the global market, but the U.S. sees it as OPEC+’s effectively siding with Russia, the Saudis say. It has been accused of using energy as a weapon against Europe, as the Kremlin suffers heavy losses of troops and territory. As well as the wider world – which is dealing with inflation partly sparked by the war, Europe has also long relied on Moscow’s fossil fuels.

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