Mike Pompeo calls Saudi crown prince as Congress debates OPEC legislation

Secretary of state’s call to MBS comes as lawmakers debate a bill to sue the oil cartel

epa07066627 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 03 October 2018. Pompeo announced that the US is canceling a 1955 treaty with Iran on economic relations and consular rights.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Three days after US president Donald Trump called Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz to push for more oil input into the market, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo held his own phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday.

In a readout, the State Department’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Mr Pompeo “thanked the Crown Prince for his continued, strong partnership … [and] discussed a broad range of regional and bilateral issues, including Yemen and countering the Iranian regime's malign activities in the region.”

“The Secretary and the Crown Prince also discussed areas for expanding US-Saudi collaboration,” she said.

The statement didn’t mention rising oil prices ($84 a barrel) that have been a source of increasing US-OPEC tension in the last few weeks.

This tension manifested itself in a public hearing in Congress on Wednesday. US Justice Department and Trade officials testified at Senate subcommittee to push the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC). The bill would allow legal action against OPEC over adjusting prices and production.

Makan Delrahim, the US Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, and Joseph Simons, the chairman Federal Trade Commission appeared at the Senate subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights to discuss the NOPEC act, now being debate in Congress. The bill which is co-sponsored by four high-ranking Republican and Democratic senators removes sovereign immunity from OPEC.

If passed, it would make it “illegal and a violation to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product; to set or maintain the price of oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product; or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product.”

The text of the bill can be read here.

With 16 days left in session, however, Congress may not have enough time to pass the bill through its committees and on to the president’s desk. In the last week, Saudi Arabia has held talks with both Kuwait and Russia to increase oil supplies ahead of US sanctions on Iran targeting its oil sector on November 4.