Reports claim the Saudi prince was forced to cutdown oil production after US President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw troops from his country.
The aftermath of a Saudi attempt to price out Russian oil producers has harmed the reputation of the kingdom’s de facto ruler in more ways than one, according to a recent report detailing a phone conversation between Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and US President Donald Trump.
According to Reuters, Trump is said to have ‘bullied’ the Saudi prince with the threat of withdrawing US troops, without whom the country’s rulers “might not be there for two weeks”, unless he agreed to cut oil production and stabilise prices.
The threat took place during an April conversation and was said to have so flustered the Saudi royal that he ordered aides out of the room.
MBS had ordered an increase in oil production after getting embroiled in a similarly fiery exchange with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March. The two sides had failed to agree on production cuts so Riyadh decided to instead initiate a price war by increasing its own oil output in the hope that Moscow would be priced out.
The move flooded the market with cheap oil just as countries across the world began initiating lockdowns to protect citizens from the coronavirus. A consequent drop in demand meant a global glut in supply that heavily impacted US oil producers, who have higher production costs and cannot sustain selling at low prices.
Trump’s decision to force the Saudis to cut production represents the biggest known rebuke of MBS so far during his reign.
Many from Trump’s Republican party, who had until the ascent of MBS been ardent allies of the Saudis, had previously turned against the kingdom. Key points of tension include the war in Yemen and most significantly, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018.
Turkish and western intelligence agencies believe the order for the Khashoggi operation came from the Saudi crown prince contradicting his own claims that those involved were acting without authorisation.
Domestically too, the Saudi crown prince has embarked on an aggressive campaign to root out potential rivals within his own family.
While public protestations against MBS are rare, the crown prince has arrested senior royals who could provide an alternative to his rule, such as former crown prince and interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef.
Under MBS, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a dramatic process of social reform, which combines cultural liberalisation, such as the opening of cinemas and relaxation of gender constraints, with political oppression of religious and civil activists.