The United States is increasing its dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia, raising its imports from the kingdom by more than 20 percent this year, even as fears of military conflict in the tinderbox Persian Gulf region grow.
The increase in Saudi oil exports to the United States began slowly last summer and has picked up pace this year. Until then, the United States had decreased its dependence on foreign oil and from the Gulf in particular.
This reversal is driven in part by the battle over Iran’s nuclear program. The United States tightened sanctions that hampered Iran’s ability to sell crude, the lifeline of its troubled economy, and Saudi Arabia agreed to increase production to help guarantee that the price did not skyrocket. While prices have remained relatively stable, and Tehran’s treasury has been squeezed, the United States is left increasingly vulnerable to a region in turmoil.
The jump in Saudi oil production has been welcomed by Washington and European governments, but Saudi society faces its own challenges, with the recent deaths of senior members of the royal family and sectarian strife in the eastern part of the country, making the stability of Saudi energy and political policies uncertain.