WASHINGTON — Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.
The instruction occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom.
The training was provided by the Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The company says the training — including “safe marksmanship” and “countering an attack” — was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders. One person familiar with the training said it also included work in surveillance and close-quarters battle.
There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents committed horrific human rights abuses.
It also underscores the perils of military partnerships with repressive governments and demonstrates how little oversight exists for those forces after they return home.
Such issues are likely to continue as American private military contractors increasingly look to foreign clients to shore up their business as the United States scales back overseas deployments after two decades of war.
The State Department initially granted a license for the paramilitary training of the Saudi Royal Guard to Tier 1 Group starting in 2014, during the Obama administration. The training continued during at least the first year of former President Donald J. Trump’s term.
Louis Bremer, a senior executive of Cerberus, Tier 1 Group’s parent company, confirmed his company’s role in the training last year in written answers to questions from lawmakers as part of his nomination for a top Pentagon job during the Trump administration.
The administration does not appear to have sent the document to Congress before withdrawing Mr. Bremer’s nomination; lawmakers never received answers to their questions.
In the document, which Mr. Bremer provided to The New York Times, he said that four members of the Khashoggi kill team had received Tier 1 Group training in 2017, and two of them had participated in a previous iteration of the training, which went from October 2014 until January 2015.
“The training provided was unrelated to their subsequent heinous acts,” Mr. Bremer said in his responses.
He said that a March 2019 review by Tier 1 Group “uncovered no wrongdoing by the company and confirmed that the established curriculum training was unrelated to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Mr. Bremer said that the State Department, “in collaboration with other U.S. departments and agencies,” is responsible for vetting the foreign forces trained on U.S. soil. “All foreign personnel trained by T1G are cleared by the U.S. government for entry into the United States before commencement of training.”
In a statement, Mr. Bremer said that the training was “protective in nature” and that the company conducted no further training of Saudis after December 2017.
“T1G management, the board and I stand firmly with the U.S. government, the American people and the international community in condemning the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” he said.
A 2019 column by David Ignatius of The Washington Post first reported that members of the Khashoggi kill team had received training in the United States. He wrote that the C.I.A. had “cautioned other government agencies” that some special-operations training may have been conducted by Tier 1 Group under a State Department license.
The issue was central to Mr. Bremer’s contentious confirmation hearing and the written questions from senators, asking him what role, if any, Tier 1 Group had in training Saudis who had participated in the Khashoggi operation.
A State Department spokesman declined to confirm whether it awarded licenses to Tier 1 Group for the Saudi training.
“This administration insists on responsible use of U.S. origin defense equipment and training by our allies and partners, and considers appropriate responses if violations occur,” said the spokesman, Ned Price. “Saudi Arabia faces significant threats to its territory, and we are committed to working together to help Riyadh strengthen its defenses.”
A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not comment.
Mr. Trump weighed installing the head of Cerberus, Stephen A. Feinberg, in a top intelligence post last year, but the appointment was never made. While the Trump administration had appointed Mr. Feinberg to lead the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board in 2018, questions emerged about potential conflicts of interest. Cerberus formerly owned the military contractor DynCorp, which among other things provides intelligence advice to the United States and other clients.
It is unclear which members of the Khashoggi kill team participated in the Tier 1 Group training. Seven members of the team belonged to an elite unit charged with protecting Prince Mohammed, according to an American intelligence report about the assassination declassified in February.
The role of operatives from the so-called Rapid Intervention Force in the Khashoggi killing helped bolster the American intelligence case that Prince Mohammed approved the operation.
“Members of the R.I.F. would not have participated” in the killing without his consent, according to the report. The group “exists to defend the crown prince” and “answers only to him,” the document said.
Members of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi were involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017, according to officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign.
Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Post, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, his body dismembered using a bone saw. The assassination brought widespread condemnation on Prince Mohammed, who has publicly denied any knowledge of the operation.
Eight defendants were sentenced to up to two decades in prison last year, but human rights advocates criticized the punishments as aimed at lower-level agents while sparing their leaders.
The C.I.A. concluded that the prince directed the operation, but Mr. Trump said that the evidence was inconclusive and that America’s diplomatic and economic relationship with the kingdom took priority. After President Biden took office and debated the issue with his advisers before the release of the declassified intelligence report, his administration announced sanctions on Saudis involved in the killing, including members of the elite unit who protect Prince Mohammed, but chose not to directly punish the crown prince.
The earlier iteration of the training, which took place during the Obama administration, occurred before Prince Mohammed consolidated power in the kingdom. His predecessor as crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, was a close ally of the United States and in particular John O. Brennan, who served as C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama.
Prince bin Nayef was the Saudi counterterrorism chief and collaborated closely with Obama administration officials in working to dismantle Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group’s affiliate based in Yemen.
In 2017, Prince bin Salman pushed Prince bin Nayef from power and executed a broader campaign to wrest power from his rivals — including a notorious episode of imprisoning Saudi royals and businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
The Trump administration considered him a valuable partner in the Middle East — especially for the administration’s strategy to isolate Iran — and Prince bin Salman developed a close relationship with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who served as a senior adviser to Mr. Trump.
Prince bin Salman, the son of King Salman, is the next in line to the Saudi throne. Prince bin Nayef remains under house arrest in the kingdom.
The Tier 1 Group website lists numerous American special operations and intelligence units as clients, along with “specialty units that do not require recognition.” It said it also trains “OGA special operator teams” — one pseudonym for C.I.A. paramilitary units — as well as “international allied forces.”
Under federal rules that restrict foreign sales of American arms and military expertise, Tier 1 Group was required to apply for licenses to train the foreign operatives. Those license applications were examined by State Department officials — who were processing tens of thousands of licenses per year — and approved.
The approval would have allowed members of the Saudi Royal Guard to enter the United States on visas processed by the American Embassy in Riyadh. The path is similar to the one followed by Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force officer who opened fire in 2019 at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., where he was receiving military flight training. The attack killed three people and wounded eight.
Tier 1 Group was founded to train U.S. military personnel, taking advantage of an expanded Pentagon budget for military personnel training in basic counterinsurgency skills, according to former American officials familiar with its operations.
One of the company’s founders, Steve Reichert, a former Marine, was working as an instructor for the security contractor then known as Blackwater when he met Mr. Feinberg. With Mr. Feinberg’s backing, Mr. Reichert set up Tier 1 Group, according to Mr. Reichert’s 2020 account of the company’s founding and former intelligence officials familiar with the efforts.
But as U.S. military training budgets began to shrink, the company, like other private security firms, began searching for new clients. By 2014, it was beginning to train foreign military units, including Saudis.
Decisions about granting licenses to American firms to train foreign nationals are usually made after getting input from numerous government agencies, said R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs during the Trump administration. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies often play a role, he said.
“These things don’t just come out of the ether,” he said.
Mr. Cooper said he could not recall any discussion about the Tier 1 Group training of Saudis, even after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. He said there were intense deliberations inside the Trump administration about how to respond to the killing after the government concluded that Prince Mohammed most likely approved it.
In the end, he said, administration officials did not want to squander America’s relationship with the kingdom — and the strategy of isolating Iran — khashoggi
“No government is going to flush a significant bilateral relationship over this murder, no matter how horrific it was,” he said.
Adam Goldman contributed reporting.
the Joe Rogan experience morality talk
to me about morality or talk about why
we can’t talk about certain things well
while we’re what you were saying before
about being a competitor the United
States is competitive obviously and when
you’re playing the ultimate game which
is war you have to be very careful about
what you reveal and what you don’t
reveal and this is where the
conversation about surprise kill vanish
comes in because the CIA using these
covert operations to assassinate people
and whether or not that should be
allowed or not allowed whether it’s good
or bad whether it’s necessary whether
it’s like if you want people to be safe
over here there’s certain people you got
to take out and sometimes you just can’t
follow the rules and why why are we not
supposed to know about that should we
know about that the way the story
started for me I’m at my house in 2009 a
source is you know calls me up he says
I’m on my way back from the Middle East
gonna pop by the house and say hi he
brings me a challenge coin that says
Kabul Afghanistan State Department I’m
thinking okay he is not a diplomat I
mean he’s weapons trained at the time my
boys were young there are lots of GI
Joes in the garden and they had little
weapons right and the source is showing
them about the weapons and they’re like
so into it cuz they know he’s military
trained and then he says if it’s okay
with your mom and dad I’ll show you some
weapons the boys are like please so he
sets up this sniper rifle in the living
room and I live up in the hills and you
can look across the canyon through this
scope he set up and I can see the veins
on a leaf
across the canyon and I thought okay so
now I know what he was doing in Kabul
Afghanistan he’s taking out al Qaeda
with this mm-hmm
there’s another case on the ground that
he never opens and when the boys go off
I say to him what’s in that and he said
he opens it up and inside there’s a
knife and it’s serrated and I said
what’s that for
immediately realizing you know my
naivete and he says to me sometimes a
job requires quiet so why that became
to me was because of my own thoughts and
perceptions about what he had told me in
other words I could I could deal with
him with a sniper rifle
I could me like okay that’s what he does
but the knife gave me pause I was like
is he slitting someone’s throat is it in
the ribs and I thought why is it that I
am willing to accept sort of the
clinical nature of of a sniper rifle but
I can’t I’m uncomfortable with that
close-up hand-to-hand killing and that
led me to surprise kill vanish because
that was the motto of the precursor
agency of the CIA it was called the OSS
the Office of Strategic Services their
motto was surprise kill vanish because
they would jump out of aircraft land
work with their French partners and kill
Nazis with a you know a knife to the
throat and I thought okay that’s
considered okay because they were Nazis
right but we can’t we’re not supposed to
do that anymore
in this world we live in why and I spent
the whole this whole book researching
and reporting is about that sort of
conundrum if you will that moral puzzle
you know why do we why do we
differentiate you know and who are they
willing to do that to where do they draw
that line like I’m sure you’re aware of
the story of Jamal khashoggi the
journalist who was assassinated by
someone some group of people and that
they entered into the Turkish embassy
and they whacked him and chopped him up
and carried him out in boxes and it’s an
international it was a huge incident
right this supposedly was ordered by who
was it supposed to order by the head of
Saudi Arabia yeah MBS Mohammed bin
Salman I mean that’s the idea is that
their head of state wanted him killed
because he was a threat because he was a
reporter because he’s writing some
things yeah and that they this is how
they did it yeah I mean and there’s
that’s a great question because what
like okay so but we all think of that as
reprehensible right right right
why you know cuz cuz he’s a journalist
on our side he’s delivering information
to people but the government of Saudi
Arabia disagree they like that
information is our information he’s a
threat by releasing it yes he’s a threat
to our livelihood yes yeah and who
decides who’s a threat I mean a lot of
this book is about who’s on the kill
list right I mean there is an actual
killers they’re always husband and the
euphemisms involved I mean I write
history as I said so Eisenhower called
his assassination program health
alteration I mean literally in the
declassified documents the Solaris
health all three she had a health
alteration committee whoa Kennedy had an
executive action committee that’s also
cleaner all right
guess what Reagan’s was called super
Wonder Boy power up close pre-emptive
neutralization preemptive neutralization
Wow why do they keep switching the names
for it they’re burying the information
right and they keep switching around the
they switch around who has authority to
you know say yes let’s go ahead and put
this guy on the kill list I mean that
was fascinating I mean I interviewed a
guy named John Rizzo who was a
decades-long CIA attorney I was stunned
that he was willing to talk to me and he
explained to me how a presidential
finding also called a memorandum of
notification works that gives the
president the authority to put an
individual on the kill list that job is
then given to the CIA’s paramilitary
army an operator or their assassins
because the CIA works under a code
called title 50 of so it makes it legal
whereas the Defense Department works
under what’s called title 10 so in other
words and they can’t their rules of
engagement are totally different so the
misnomer is like oh the SEALs killed bin
Laden well they were seals trained but
that was a CIA mission
hmm because Pakistan is a sovereign
nation and the military can’t kill
people in countries were not at war with
so those guys all became essentially CIA
operators for the night whoa right and
if you look at photographs as I have
seen you’ll notice that they have no
markings on their outfits so that if the
job went south it’d be like I don’t know
who these guys are and if you look back
at Vietnam photos of the Mac V SOG teams
which I also write about in surprise
kill vanish because that’s the precursor
of that you see no markings right that
way you can go into you can go behind
enemy lines you can go into Laos you
know in the Vietnam War you can go now
you can go into Pakistan what I learned
reporting this book is we’re in a
hundred and thirty four countries doing
title 50 operations think about that
government wants that to be kept secret
so in all those countries they’re doing
things that don’t fall under the normal
letter of the law not yes not under the
rules of engagement of the military but
the CIA works at the president’s behest
that that was one thing that really blew
my mind to report to research to
I talked to forty two guys who have
direct access to this who are in this
world you know from the knuckle draggers
on the ground as they call themselves to
the lawyer at CIA senior intelligence
staff that’s the equivalent of a general
at the CIA
those guys explaining to me Annie this
is how it works you know and again to
your question well why why does someone
get to know that and why does the
government want why do they allow that
information out is super interesting and
I believe that has to do with a certain
climate we’re in right now about
military might right in other words what
the CIA does is called tercio up do it’s
the third option you’ve got the first
option is diplomacy second option is war
so if diplomacy is not working
and war is unwise you go to the third
option which is the CIA’s paramilitary
and they’re in a hundred and how many
country 134 do you well if you wonder
why the military budgets so big that’s
what it is folks kind of feed those
folks what work I mean what happened and
you as a competitor would be fascinated
by the kind of training they do and what
they do I mean so many of these
infiltration techniques are
mind-boggling you know they’ve got halo
jumping which you know about right where
they high altitude low opening so they
jump out they you know freefall down
terminal velocity pull the ripcord
really low so they’re not detected by
radar and then they meet up with a team
on the ground and go do what they do
then they also have hey-ho which is high
altitude high opening and that way you
can fly over airspace where we’re
allowed and float into let’s say a
country like Iran and land gather your
team and do what you have to do hmm but
like so much of what I report I get
information like that and then I ask a
million questions like you’ve asking me
and it’s like can’t talk about that
that’s classified hmm you don’t you
you’re a journalist so you’re trying not
to judge mm-hmm but is it your belief
that this is a good thing for America
meaning having a third option
whoa I mean I write in the book that
that’s in the prologue after I tell that
story about the source with a knife I
say I wanted to know in that exact
question like is this a good thing and
my answer at the end after it’s complex
not to be vague but it is really complex
is also that well if you’re gonna take
that pole position you must accept
rivalry right mm-hmm and also after talk
do I think it’s a good thing after
talking to a lot of 20-year old soldiers
who come back from the war theater miss
limb with intense PTSD and who
essentially serve as cannon fodder I
would say my opinion right for the
Pentagon that’s the second option or the
42 guys that I interviewed you know
they’re like send me they are a
professional they are Tier one operators
they’re Green Berets they’re seals their
Delta they retire they join the CIA yeah
so they’re like professionals at what
and they’re saying I want someone has to
do this job we’ve been doing this since
the end of World War two I want to do it
so do I think it’s better I mean I think
that that concept speaks to choice right
because I’m not so sure that the 20 year
olds know what they’re in for
and the 40 year olds know what they’re
in for and are willing to do it so that
well also the difference between a
specialized trained individual with a
very specific task versus someone who is
sort of following orders and at the
front of the line yeah right I mean and
also has a you know a lot of times I
talk to these young kids who go to war
and they tell me one of the fascinating
detail is that they talk about movies
that they see and whether it’s Saving
Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down even
right where the outcome is not
necessarily great but they talk about
the romanticization of war and of
camaraderie and a brotherhood that comes
from that and then they have their
experience and some of that does give
them that sense but not always whereas
the operators are much more about you
know getting the job done that’s what I
was fascinated by I mean these guys are
really clear they’re their competitors
they’re like top tier competitors they
have a job they do it they get it done
and they ask for the next job so is the
oversight when it comes to choosing
whether or not this operation takes
place or not is it
do they have moral guidelines do they
have ethical or moral guidelines where
they say like this is the president is
requesting that this person get taken
out the Chiefs of Staff whoever it is is
that did they have to make a an ethical
distinction you mean or they like kill
him nicely like don’t make it over this
do they decide like does this make sense
or like what if the president is like
Rosie O’Donnell she’s been talking shit
take her out you know
well I mean that’s you know that’s a big
issue but what I try to write in some
what I try to report in surprise kill
vanish is the idea that the people we
take out may be our bad guys right one
one guy write about his che guevara okay
because che is often portrayed in the
press as you know this amazing hero and
that he and we you know I don’t know if
you know but he was he was killed by the
Bolivian Rangers but it was a CIA
operation and I interview the man in
charge of that operation in Surprise Cal
vanished his name was Felix Rodriguez ok
long-serving CIA paramilitary officer so
but I also report why the President to
your question wanted Che Guevara dead
you know he was really advocating for
nuclear war and I and I shared it yes I
mean he spoke publicly about you know if
if we have to have an atomic war the
Cuban but paraphrasing the Cuban people
will be happy to have sacrificed
themselves that I mean che was also che
killed anyone who betrayed him he killed
he writes about it in his Diaries as I
write in the book right so but on the
morality question who decides I don’t
have that answer but I will tell you
what I did I went with my main source
Billy hua who he’s a 89 now and he was
he’s been with the CIA for 60 years
okay I mean he went and he and I went to
Cuba for him to do a halo jump with Che
Guevara son so we were a guest of the
man whose father was killed by the CIA
okay and we had this really interesting
discussion in the cigar club where che
and Castro you know smoke cigars and
plotted the downfall of the United
States and that’s what I try to give
readers a sense of the long lens of
history how time changes all things and
maybe leave with them them with this
idea which they can come to their own
conclusions about what you asked me of
is it right or is it wrong because
really what you might ask is is it
necessary mmm right I mean I could
moralize right wrong but it would just
be my opinion but when you see I went
Billy wall and I also try out travel to
Vietnam because he was supposed to kill
he was tasked to kill the top commander
of the North Vietnamese Army a guy named
general shop and law didn’t kill shop
and we had this incredibly this terrible
mission that went awry that I write
about in the book in the Vietnam War so
50 years later while and I go to visit
the son of general giap are sitting
there in shops home talking about these
same issues right and my conclusion of
that again is not is it right or wrong
but is it necessary I mean we have these
wars we keep having these wars is it
necessary yeah what do you think well I
mean my opinion is that the Defense
Department is far too concerned with
vast weapons systems of the future which
is its mission statement of its science
department and so you create what some
at the Pentagon call a self licking ice
cream cone or the military-industrial
complex and there’s a lot built into
that there’s a lot to be said about
On the eve of his memoir ‘Permanent Record’ being published, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden talked at length from Moscow with MSNBC’s Brian Williams in an exclusive interview. This is their discussion in its entirety, edited down slightly for clarity.
And a story that — if true — could be deadly for Jared Kushner
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The Magnificent Seven. Seven Samurai. The Seven Year Itch. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Hollywood loves stories and film titles with seven in them. So how about Seven Whistleblowers? It has a nice ring to it. Because a source tells Cockburn that House Democrats trying to impeach Donald Trump have no less than seven intelligence whistleblowers willing to give evidence, or who have already given evidence, about President Trump’s dealings with foreign governments.
Some we know about already. There’s the original whistleblower, the CIA officer at the White House who first reported Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. Republicans are now pushing to ‘unmask’ him, though his name is already all over the internet. He is, supposedly, a 33-year-old graduate of Yale, a registered Democrat who had worked for both Joe Biden and John Brennan. These facts, so helpful to the White House, are in a ‘dossier’ circulated on Capitol Hill by the president’s allies. A second Ukraine whistleblower has come forward. We know this because the lawyer for the first whistleblower, Mark Zaid, told ABC News that he was representing a second. In fact, Zaid’s co-counsel said that they were representing ‘multiple’ whistleblowers. Two? More than two? Seven?
Cockburn wondered if one of the whistleblowers could possibly be Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the senior Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who came to the US from Ukraine — to Little Odessa in Brooklyn — as a child aged three. He arrived to give evidence to the House Intelligence Committee wearing his dark blue Army dress uniform and military ribbons. He said that the White House transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine’s president had important gaps — and that his attempts to include ‘crucial words and phrases’ had been rebuffed. ‘I am a patriot and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.’
Or perhaps Tim Morrison, the NSC’s director for European and Russian Affairs, who was one of the small group to have listened to the call. He told the committee that Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, had said Ukraine wouldn’t get US arms unless it investigated Biden. But the British Daily Mail has pointed out that both officials testified under subpoena and so — Lord Rothermere’s organ states, correctly — neither is legally a whistleblower.
However many Ukraine whistleblowers there may or may not be, Cockburn’s source says that at least one of the (purported) seven has nothing to do with Ukraine at all. Instead, it’s claimed that this whistleblower reported a call between Trump and the Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He or she is said to have had ‘concerns’ about what was said on the call about the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Kushner himself is known to have a very close relationship with MBS. Cockburn has previously written that Kushner may have been what Cosmo would call an ‘oversharer’ when it came to MBS. Unfortunately, it’s claimed that what he was sharing was American secrets: information Kushner had requested from the CIA would (allegedly) be echoed back in US intercepts of calls between members of the Saudi royal family. One source said this was why Kushner lost his intelligence clearances for a while.
According to Cockburn’s source about the seven whistleblowers, there’s more. It is that Kushner (allegedly) gave the green light to MBS to arrest the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A second source tells Cockburn that this is true and adds a crucial twist to the story. This source claims that Turkish intelligence obtained an intercept of the call between Kushner and MBS. And President Erdogan used it to get Trump to roll over and pull American troops out of northern Syria before the Turks invaded. A White House official has told the Daily Mail that this story is ‘false nonsense’. However, Cockburn hears that investigators for the House Intelligence Committee are looking into it. Who knows whether any of this is true…but Adam Schiff certainly seems to be smiling a lot these days.
When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries met in Vienna in December, it was in danger of imploding.
Oil prices had plunged. Member states Iran, Venezuela and Libya were refusing to cut production. Qatar had quit. And U.S. President Donald Trump was pressuring Saudi Arabia to keep prices low.
With negotiations teetering on the brink of failure, rescue came from an unlikely place—Russia, which isn’t even an OPEC member. President Vladimir Putin agreed to cut Russian oil production in league with OPEC, provided that Iran was allowed to keep pumping.
The degree of acrimony that pervaded that critical meeting, and the critical role Russia played in resolving the crisis, hasn’t previously been reported. What happened behind closed doors in December was a pivotal moment in Russia’s transformation from a nation that didn’t cooperate with OPEC at all to one that has become an indispensable partner.
Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih recently joked that he talks more with his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak than with some of his colleagues in the Saudi cabinet. “We met 12 times in 2018,” he said of Mr. Novak at a news conference in March.
At the next OPEC meeting, scheduled for May, Russia and Saudi officials will discuss whether to formalize what has been until now an temporary alliance.
For decades, the U.S. has embraced Saudi Arabia as one of its close geopolitical allies, selling it arms and encouraging its role as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. In exchange, Washington has come to expect a stable supply of oil to global markets to help damp price spikes and to prevent harm to the U.S. economy.
With its new ally in Russia, Saudi Arabia is no longer beholden only to Washington.
Under Mr. Trump, the U.S. has altered its longstanding, hands-off approach to the cartel. Mr. Trump has repeatedly tweeted for OPEC to boost output to drive oil prices down, and he has phoned the Saudi government directly asking the kingdom to open the taps.
“The United States-Saudi Arabia relationship plays a critical role in ensuring Middle East stability and maintaining maximum pressure against Iran,” said a senior Trump administration official. “The U.S.-Saudi relationship remains strong.”
The murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last October created a fresh rift between the Saudi kingdom and the U.S.—and provided an opening for Russia to insert itself further into OPEC.
.. Oil prices had cratered in 2016 and didn’t look likely to rebound. The three men needed to orchestrate a deal to reduce crude output to lift global prices. Russia and OPEC agreed to cut production.
By the middle of last year, crude was soaring again, thanks to lower output from OPEC and Russia and renewed prospects for global economic growth. By the end of the year, however, amid a U.S.-China trade battle, the world’s economic outlook was dimming.
As the December OPEC meeting loomed, oil prices had plunged some 30% in six weeks. The Saudis needed unanimous agreement on proposed production cuts to shore up prices. Iran, already hobbled by U.S. sanctions that began in November, was reluctant to curb its output. Libya and Venezuela, with domestic troubles of their own, also were holdouts.
With the cartel about to meet in Vienna, Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s neighbor in the Persian Gulf, shocked global oil markets by announcing it was leaving OPEC. It was among a small group of member countries that felt overshadowed as the Saudi-Russia alliance grew stronger. OPEC has become “basically all about what [Prince Mohammed] and his buddy Putin want,” says a Qatari official.
Following the alarming disappearance of a Saudi journalist and political dissident, John Oliver examines America’s uncomfortably comfortable relationship with Saudi Arabia.