Trump Promotes Oil Deal That May Not Exist

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Mr. Trump made clear his anxiety on Wednesday during a news briefing at the White House. After saying the 17-year low in oil prices was “incredible, in a lot of ways,” he went on to express alarm about the fate of U.S. energy companies, including shale oil producers facing disaster. Whiting Petroleum, a big shale producer in North Dakota, filed for bankruptcy protection this week.

“You don’t want to lose an industry. You’re going to lose an industry over it,” Mr. Trump said. “Thousands and thousands of jobs.”

Administration officials have pressed Saudi Arabia for weeks to change course. On March 25, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Prince Mohammed and urged Saudi Arabia to “rise to the occasion and reassure global energy and financial markets,” according to a State Department readout of the call. Mr. Trump spoke with the crown prince on March 31. But their pleas appeared rebuffed when Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, tweeted boastfully on April 1 about its continued production.

During a teleconference briefing last month, the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Gen. John Abizaid, said Prince Mohammed’s decision to increase production seemed impulsive and driven by pique against Moscow, and was poorly coordinated across the Saudi government, according to an American official familiar with the discussion.

Independent of American pressure, Saudi Arabia has, along with its allies in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, reason to reverse course on the decision to boost production. In recent days, the kingdom’s tankers left port brimming with oil but with few destinations as global inventories filled to the brim. With tanker fees climbing fast, the kingdom’s shipping costs are rising to painful levels.

Saudi Arabia depends on oil revenues to finance its sweeping social programs, and much of its population owns shares of Saudi Aramco, which was partly privatized last year and whose shares have sharply declined over the past month.

Prince Mohammed also has a strong interest in retaining Mr. Trump’s good will, which was not diminished even in the face of evidence of the crown prince’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, according to Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute. The crown prince now faces threats from Iran and a continuing military quagmire in Yemen.