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Saudi ambassador welcomes review of US relations at a time when relationship is at ‘point of disagreement’

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States told CNN that while Riyadh’s relationship with Washington is at a “tough point” in light of OPEC+’s decision to cut oil production, the ties between the two longtime allies remain strong.

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, in her first TV interview with international media since becoming an ambassador in early 2019, told CNN’s Becky Anderson that “it’s okay 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 that aired on Tuesday.

The Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel announced earlier this month that it would cut production by 2 million barrels a day, a move that rebuffed intensive lobbying by US administration officials and has prompted the Biden administration to examine the longstanding relationship between the two countries. Cutting oil production aligns with Russian interests and is particularly politically inconvenient for US President Joe Biden, who is coming into the home stretch of midterm election season.

Saudi officials have insisted the production cut is being done to protect the country’s economic interests, but the decision has sparked bipartisan rage in Washington, with several lawmakers touting punitive measures such as halting the sale of weapons, the withdrawal of US troops from 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 “everyone at all levels, those we agree with and those we don’t. Okay”.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest oil producers in the world, but Princess Reema said that under Vision 2030 the kingdom is “reframing itself to be one of the biggest energy producers” by investing billions of dollars in renewable energy while balancing oil. market.

“We want to have this next chapter of clean energy as a partnership because it’s the future. This argument about OPEC is today because the world is tense. But this is 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 an American review of relations between the two countries because “the kingdom is not what it was five years ago.”

“I deal very regularly with the administration, and frankly, it is an administration for which I have a deep respect. I had nothing but the most gracious and direct communication, as it should be. This is how the partners communicate with each other,” she continued.

Before becoming an 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 the 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 activist Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison for her Twitter activity, according to court documents seen by CNN.

When asked how she balances 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. others.

“I will tell you that their files are being examined. I believe they are on appeal. And I believe the system will correct itself if necessary,” she said.

“The United States has been on a 200-year journey of transformation,” Princess Reema continued. “We’ve had 80. We’re different people in a different place, and we’re going to get there because we believe in the same thing. We believe in all the opportunities for our employees. And we are very proud of the changes that have occurred.

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