Trump praises Saudi Arabia amid pressure over ally


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump praised Saudi Arabia for helping to lower oil prices on Wednesday as pressure intensified for the United States to impose tougher sanctions on its Middle East ally over dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

In a tweet, Trump thanked Riyadh for the recent drop in oil prices and called for prices to go even lower to boost the U.S. and global economies.

Trump has repeatedly blasted high oil prices, criticized OPEC over its production and pressured Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, to act.

Oil prices <CLc1> <LCOc1> rose on Wednesday but have been trending lower for weeks. Prices slid on Tuesday after a report of an unexpected decline in U.S. crude inventories.

“Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” Trump wrote.

The tweet comes two weeks ahead of a crucial meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies where they are expected to curb production levels to stem rising supplies.

OPEC and its allies, led by Russia, are discussing a proposal to cut oil output by 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), sources told Reuters last week.

Lower oil output from the group would reverse months of increased production which saw Saudi and Russian oil production hit record highs.

Brent crude <LCOc1> has fallen from a record of $86.74 in October to $61.71 a barrel on Tuesday, its lowest since December 2017. U.S. WTI crude futures <CLc1> slumped nearly 8 percent on Tuesday to $52.77 having hit a four-year high of $76.90 last month.

On Tuesday, Trump pledged to stand by Saudi Arabia even as he said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about the plan to murder Khashoggi last month.

The CIA believes Khashoggi’s death was ordered directly by the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler widely known by his initials MbS, sources familiar with the matter have said.

With U.S. lawmakers calling for tougher sanctions, Trump said he would not cancel military deals with the kingdom. He said it would be a “foolish” move that would only benefit Russia and China, competitors of the United States in the arms market.

A number of U.S. lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, pushed back sharply on his assessment and urged further congressional action.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again defended Trump’s stance on Wednesday, saying the United States had already sanctioned 17 Saudis and that Riyadh was critical to the administration’s Iran strategy.

“Not every country shares our value set,” he told local radio station KQAM. “Our mission statement is to make sure that the American people are safe and secure.”

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