Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, promised Trump that it would hike oil supplies to help offset supply losses from Tehran and ease prices. But if the U.S. punishes Riyadh, that could push the kingdom to withhold oil supplies and allow prices to spike — a move that may boost Iranian coffers.
Iranian crude is already selling at more than $80 per barrel, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahagiri told local media this week. That means even with crude exports halved, the country will still have the same income as before, he added.
In a statement on Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said that “if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” It also warned that “the Kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy” — a phrase that some observers interpreted as a veiled threat. The next day, the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. urged the international community to avoid jumping to any conclusions.
The statement avoided any direct reference to using oil as a weapon but “it’s clear that was the subtext,” Mohammed Ayoob, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy and professor at Michigan State University, wrote in a Tuesday note published on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The kingdom has previously used energy as a political tool, most famously during the 1973-1974 oil embargo.
“A Saudi decision to cut oil production even by as little as 10% could send international energy markets into turmoil with oil prices rising well above US$100 immediately,” Ayoob warned. Such a development, he said, would likely make Iran “the primary beneficiary of the Khashoggi affair.”