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'I had a call with MBZ,' Macron interrupts Biden with dour oil news

In an off-mic moment French president tells Biden that Gulf states can't increase oil production
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, US President Joe Biden and France's President Emmanuel Macron talk as they arrive for the Royal Gala dinner held as part of the Nato summit at the Royal Palace in Madrid, on June 28, 2022 (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron weaved his way through a crowd at this week's G-7 summit in Bavaria, Germany, to tell US President Joe Biden that Saudi Arabia and the UAE wouldn't be able to increase oil production.

"Excuse me, sorry to interrupt," Macron said as he approached Biden, who was walking ahead of his French counterpart, in conversation with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

"I had a call with MBZ," Macron told Biden, referring to the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

"He told me two things. One, 'I'm at a maximum, maximum [production capacity]' - what he claims… Second, according to MBZ, the Saudis can increase a little bit, by 150 [thousands barrels per day] or a little bit more, but they don't have huge capacities at least before six months' time."

A flustered Jake Sullivan had a word of caution. "Careful," he said. "Maybe we should just step inside… because of the cameras."

The exchange came as Biden prepares for his first visit to the Middle East since taking office. Ties between the US and Saudi Arabia have come under strain, in part because of Riyadh's refusal to increase oil production to tame soaring prices exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Macron's comments would indicate there is little the Gulf states can actually do to help Western countries address high gasoline prices - even if they wanted to.

Shortly after the exchange, which was caught by Reuters TV, UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei sought to clarify Macron's comments, saying Abu Dhabi was producing close to the ceiling permitted by its agreement with OPEC+.

Saudi Arabia is currently producing 10.5 million bpd, but data from the International Energy Agency in Paris suggests it has a capacity of 12.0 million-12.5 million bpd. Meanwhile, the UAE is producing about 3 million bpd, and reportedly has capacity of 3.4 million bpd.

Oil prices are today up around 60 percent compared with this time last year. The industry was already struggling to meet a surge in demand following the pandemic reopening.

European states and the US have also imposed bans on Russian oil over the invasion of Ukraine, further propelling the price rally.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.