Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States affirmed to CNN that, although Riyadh’s relationship with Washington is at a “point of disagreement” in light of OPEC+’s decision to slash oil production, the ties between the two longtime allies remain strong.
Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, in her first televised interview with international media since becoming the ambassador in early 2019, told CNN’s Becky Anderson that “it’s OK to disagree.”
“Our relationship is more than the sale of arms and it is more than the exchange of oil,” Princess Reema said in the interview, which aired Tuesday.
The Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel announced earlier this month it would cut output by 2 million barrels per day, a decision that rebuffed heavy lobbying from US administration officials and prompted a Biden administration review of the longstanding relationship between the two countries. The cut in oil production aligns with Russian interests and is particularly politically troublesome for US President Joe Biden, coming in the home stretch of the midterm election season.
Saudi officials have insisted that the production cut is being done to protect the country’s economic interests, but the decision set off bipartisan rage in Washington, with several lawmakers touting punitive measures such as stopping the sale of arms, pulling US troops out of the region and limiting overall ties with the kingdom.
Princess Reema rejected the accusation that the kingdom is cooperating with Russia, saying it engages with “everybody across the board, those we agree with and those we disagree with.”
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil producers in the world, but Princess Reema said under Vision 2030, the kingdom is “reframing itself to be one of the largest energy producers” by investing billions of dollars in renewables while ensuring the balance of the oil market.
“We want to have this next chapter of clean energy as a partnership, because that’s the future. This argument about OPEC is today because the world is tense. But it’s not the conversation of the future,” she added.
The princess was appointed ambassador to Washington in 2019, at a time when Saudi-US relations were extremely frosty following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing, which he denies.
In her interview with Anderson, Princess Reema said she welcomed a US review of the relationship between the two countries, because “the kingdom is not what it used to be five years ago.”
“I deal very regularly with the administration, and frankly, it’s an administration that I have profound respect for. I have only had the most gracious and direct communication, as we should. That’s how partners communicate with each other,” she continued.
Before becoming ambassador, the princess was an advocate for women’s rights in the kingdom and worked with the Ministry of Education to include physical education for girls in schools. But despite significant reforms introduced by the Saudi government, there is still very little room for public dissent, especially for women. In August, Saudi women’s rights campaigner Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison for her activity on Twitter, according to court documents viewed by CNN.
Asked how she squares the empowerment of women in the kingdom amid a wave of arrests that critics have deemed harsh and unreasonable, Princess Reema said some reforms happen faster than others.
“I will tell you their cases are under review. I believe they’re under appeal. And I do believe that the system will correct itself if that’s what’s necessary,” she said.
“The United States had a 200-year journey of transformation,” Princess Reema continued. “We’ve had 80. We’re different people in a different place, and we are going to get there because we believe in the same thing. We believe in the set of opportunities for our people. And we’re very proud of the changes that have happened.”