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OPEC Set to Snub Biden’s Production Plea

Back in Washington after talking climate at COP26, the U.S. president now needs the cartel to pump more oil to keep gas prices low.

A poster showing gas price increases is seen as Sen. John Barrasso speaks
A poster showing gas price increases is seen as Sen. John Barrasso speaks
A poster showing gas price increases is seen as Sen. John Barrasso speaks alongside other Republican senators during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 27. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: OPEC meets to discuss oil output limits, the U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa visits Ethiopia, and Iran names Nov. 29 for fresh nuclear talks.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: OPEC meets to discuss oil output limits, the U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa visits Ethiopia, and Iran names Nov. 29 for fresh nuclear talks.

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OPEC to Decide on Oil Output

OPEC+ countries meet today to decide whether to increase oil production as the world faces a growing supply crunch, fueled by an economic rebound in the developed world.

Oil prices have risen to seven-year highs in recent weeks as demand has steadily rebounded following a steep fall at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Back then, with oil trading at $30 a barrel, U.S. consumers could enjoy prices of less than $2 per gallon at the pump. Now the average gas price has ticked up to $3.38 per gallon, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That crunch on consumers is the reason why U.S. President Joe Biden is pushing OPEC to pump more oil and force the price down. “The idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work, for example, is not right,” Biden said on Sunday.

These crowd-pleasing comments come in stark contrast to U.S. attempts to arrest the damage of fossil fuels at COP26, this year’s major United Nations climate conference. Asked about the discrepancy, Biden deflected. “It does on the surface seem inconsistent,” he said. “But … the idea that we’re going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight and not have—from this moment on, not use oil or not use gas … is just not rational.”

That kind of short-term thinking may become the default for the Biden administration, with just over a year until midterm elections and an ambitious agenda already watered down by the Democratic Party’s conservative wing, the White House will be under pressure to show it can deliver something, anything, to win voters back to its side—or at least do enough to avoid Republican attacks.

The issue of gas prices cuts across political boundaries in a country where, pre-pandemic, 86 percent of Americans traveled to work by car.

The United States may well go the same route as China, which has drawn on its own fuel reserves to keep prices down locally. The United States holds roughly 600 million barrels of crude oil in its strategic petroleum reserve, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested in October that it could soon be put to use.


What We’re Following Today

Iran back at the negotiating table. Talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will resume on Nov. 29, both Iranian and European Union officials confirmed on Wednesday. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, who will serve as chief negotiator, said the talks would aim for the “removal of unlawful and inhumane sanctions.” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed optimism that the negotiations would be concluded in “relatively short order.”

Elsewhere, tensions between the United States and Iran remain, with each side spinning competing stories on Wednesday about Iran’s seizure of an oil tanker in late October.

EU-Taiwan relations. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen meets today with a group of European parliamentarians, the first-ever official EU delegation to visit the island. The trip comes amid an increase in engagement between Taiwan and the EU’s member states, much to the displeasure of China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory. A vote in the European Parliament in October called on the bloc to form a bilateral investment treaty with Taiwan, while both the Czech Republic and Slovakia hosted Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu last week. 

Ethiopia tensions. Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa region, arrives in Addis Ababa today in a bid to ease tensions in Ethiopia after recent gains by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front threaten the capital. In a Wednesday speech at the federal military headquarters, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the country was ready to “sacrifice our blood and bone to bury this enemy.” Abiy’s similarly phrased post on Facebook urging Ethiopians to “bury the terrorist TPLF” was removed for violating a company policy forbidding incitement to violence; Ethiopia is a sensitive issue for the company, now known as Meta, after whistleblower Frances Haugen accused it of “literally fanning ethnic violence” there.


Keep an Eye On

Sudan’s transition. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, under house arrest since the country’s Oct. 25 coup, has denied reports that he will be reinstated at the head of a new power-sharing government. Hamdok’s office said he would not consider joining any efforts to remedy the coup until all detainees are released. International pressure on coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan increased on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and United Kingdom issued a joint statement calling on Sudan’s military leaders to restore its civilian-led government.

Sweden’s next leader. Sweden is on course to name its first-ever female prime minister as Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson prepares to take over the leadership of the Social Democrats. Current Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has pledged to resign following Andersson’s selection as party leader, which takes place today at the party’s annual congress. Andersson’s time in power may be short, as Sweden holds fresh parliamentary election in September 2022.


Odds and Ends

Although touted as one of many renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, nuclear power and nature are proving difficult partners. Swarms of jellyfish continue to plague the operations of the seaside Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland, reportedly forcing the plant to shut down in October as the creatures clogged cooling pipes. It’s not the first time the tentacled blobs have disrupted power plant operations; plants in California, Japan, and Israel have all suffered from jellyfish surges in recent years.

Correction, Nov. 4, 2021: This article has been updated to correct an error in the date of the U.S. midterm elections. Also, a previous version of this article misstated the types of plants disrupted by jellyfish. While in some places they obstructed nuclear power plants, in Israel they obstructed the cooling system of a coal-fired plant.

Colm Quinn was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2020 and 2022. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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