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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Mohammed bin Salman (1985- )"

Late Action on Virus Prompts Fears Over Safety of U.S. Diplomats in Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON — Inside the sprawling American Embassy compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a coronavirus outbreak was spreading. Dozens of embassy employees became sick last month, and more than 20 others were quarantined after a birthday barbecue became a potential vector for the spread of the disease.

A Sudanese driver for the top diplomats died.

A bleak analysis from within the embassy that circulated in closed channels in Riyadh and Washington late last month likened the coronavirus situation in Saudi Arabia to that of New York City in March, when an outbreak was set to explode. The assessment said the response from the Saudi government — a close partner of the Trump White House — was insufficient, even as hospitals were getting overwhelmed and health care workers were falling ill.

Some in the embassy even took the extraordinary step of conveying information to Congress outside official channels, saying that they did not believe the State Department’s leadership or the American ambassador to the kingdom, John P. Abizaid, were taking the situation seriously enough, and that most American Embassy employees and their families should be evacuated. The State Department took those steps months ago at missions elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and Russia.

The episode, based on accounts from eight current and one former official, highlights the perils facing American diplomacy with a global pandemic still raging, and the frictions between front-line diplomats, intelligence officers and defense officials on one side and senior Trump administration officials on the other who are eager to preserve relations with nations like Saudi Arabia that have special ties with the Trump White House. The Saudi royal family has exercised enormous influence on Middle East and energy policies, as well as on controversial arms sales that President Trump has personally championed.

The State Department appeared to react Saturday because of quiet bipartisan congressional pressure, announcing the “voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia.” But some senior embassy officials see that as a half-measure. They had pushed for an evacuation of most of the 400 to 500 American employees at the Riyadh Embassy and two consulates, people with knowledge of the situation said.

In response to questions, the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday that it “has no higher priority than ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and U.S. citizens.” It said that the voluntary departure “is appropriate given current conditions associated with the pandemic” and that “the pandemic has affected mission staff and our community in Saudi Arabia.”

The Saudi royal family would not welcome any move by the American government to reduce the number of diplomats and intelligence officers in the kingdom amid the pandemic, said Douglas London, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who served in numerous countries in the Middle East.

“The Saudis have never been subtle in discouraging U.S. officials from outward actions that might cast the kingdom as appearing weak, incompetent or vulnerable in difficult times,” he said.

He said that placating the kingdom was even more important for the Trump administration, which has made America’s relationship with the royal family a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

“As the State Department weighs the safety of American personnel and their dependents in the midst of the kingdom’s Covid outbreak, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the White House remain more focused on the consequences to their relationship with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman than the risks to Americans, private and official alike,” he said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172300854_2d91e134-200e-4e0d-bc94-ae080b558570-articleLarge Late Action on Virus Prompts Fears Over Safety of U.S. Diplomats in Saudi Arabia Workplace Hazards and Violations United States Politics and Government United States International Relations State Department Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Abizaid, John P
Credit…Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump has made strengthening America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and its young crown prince a focus of his foreign policy. The president has strongly advocated American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s role in leading an air war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, maintains close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed, and the Trump administration is trying to push through sales to the kingdom of two arms and intelligence surveillance packages worth more than $500 million, despite a congressional freeze on the exports. Last year, the administration declared an “emergency” to bypass a congressional hold on sales of $8.2 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — a potentially illegal action that became the focus of a State Department inspector general investigation.

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Updated 2020-07-01T21:38:59.273Z

The American Embassy in Riyadh, a walled enclave dotted with palm trees in the Diplomatic Quarter of the capital city, is one of the most important American diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and home to one of the biggest C.I.A. stations in the region. Hundreds of American diplomats, intelligence officers and their families live in the embassy compound and nearby residential complexes.

The growing alarm in the American Embassy in recent weeks has come as Saudi Arabia and its neighbors struggle with a surge of coronavirus cases and embassy officials raise serious doubts about the kingdom’s readiness to deal with the pandemic.

The Saudi government announced it would drastically reduce the number of Muslims allowed to do the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that brings millions of people to Mecca to fulfill one of the requirements of the Islamic faith. It is believed to be the first time since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932 that the pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July, was effectively canceled. Dozens of members of the royal family fell ill this spring.

Saudi Arabia has reported about 4,000 new cases of coronavirus per day, among the fastest-growing caseloads in the world. Despite that, the government has ended lockdown measures.

The analysis that circulated in Washington, written by embassy staff members and reviewed by The New York Times, said that the cases were likely to spike through July and that there would probably be a shortage of hospital beds. The embassy’s own medical unit was already overwhelmed with the rise of coronavirus cases among mission employees and their families.

Around mid-June, the embassy’s emergency action committee, composed of senior officials at the diplomatic outpost, approved departure for “high-risk individuals,” the message said, but the State Department had denied the request and advised the embassy “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.” At the missions, working from home became the norm.

The alarm in Congress sounded two weeks ago when an encrypted message making similar points as the embassy analysis arrived in the inbox of a congressional official working for Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The sender did not purport to be an employee of the U.S. government, according to a congressional official, but the message contained detailed assertions about the coronavirus threat to embassy personnel in the kingdom. The message was sent on behalf of some embassy employees, another person familiar with it said.

Mr. Schiff’s office passed the message to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has oversight over the diplomatic missions.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Based on the message and follow-up inquiries, congressional officials became concerned about the rising tensions inside the embassy, and the lack of confidence by some senior employees there in Mr. Abizaid’s ability to prioritize the safety of American personnel above political considerations.

Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Mr. Abizaid, a former Army four-star general and an Arabic speaker, once commanded all American forces in the Middle East as the head of U.S. Central Command, which works closely with Saudi Arabia. He was the top general in the region as the Iraq war intensified in the mid-2000s.

Congressional officials requested a briefing from the State Department. Last week, agency officials gave two briefings to aides from Republican and Democratic congressional offices, and the aides put pressure on the officials to allow employees to leave Saudi Arabia.

Department officials said that 32 of the 50 or so embassy employees confirmed or presumed to have Covid-19 had recovered, one congressional official said. Most of the patients were not Americans.

The driver for Mr. Abizaid and his deputy is one of at least two U.S. diplomatic mission employees in the Middle East and North Africa who have died, the official said. The State Department confirmed the death of a staff employee in Saudi Arabia.

More recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that. (The State Department did not answer specific questions about Mr. Abizaid’s decisions.)

On Saturday, the department announced the “voluntary departure” decision for the three missions in Saudi Arabia. The message said the department was trying to arrange repatriation flights since international air transportation had been shut down. The announcement is not a significant step beyond a similar action the State Department took in March that applied to all missions worldwide and that ended in May.

Some officials said that given the surge in Covid-19 cases in Saudi Arabia and the shortage of adequate medical facilities — at least one American citizen with Covid-19 was turned away at a hospital — the State Department and Mr. Abizaid were still failing to take the proper actions.

In doing what is formally called an “authorized departure,” the department is most likely leaving the bulk of the embassy staff in place. The more drastic step of an “ordered departure” — which the chief of mission has the right to take — would require most employees to evacuate, leaving only a skeleton crew remaining to handle emergencies.

Other missions in the Middle East have already gone to ordered departure based on the virus threat, including in Beirut and Baghdad in late March.

The State Department shuttered its consulate in the Chinese city where the initial coronavirus outbreak occurred, Wuhan, and the Vladivostok Consulate in Russia. At other missions in China, including the Beijing Embassy, as well as ones in Indonesia and Mongolia, the department ordered the departures of any family member under 21 — so most of the parents left as well.

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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As Russia and Saudi Arabia Retreat, U.S. Oil Industry Avoids the Worst

Westlake Legal Group 11oil-2-facebookJumbo As Russia and Saudi Arabia Retreat, U.S. Oil Industry Avoids the Worst Trump, Donald J Prices (Fares, Fees and Rates) Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Layoffs and Job Reductions Group of Twenty Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

HOUSTON — The American oil industry may have dodged a bullet.

Russia and Saudi Arabia — which only a month ago hoped to undercut American producers — have retreated from threats to pump more oil into the already-saturated market. Acknowledging that the gamble was hurting themselves as well, they instead announced this past week that they had tentatively agreed to cut production.

The change in course would give American companies room to gradually reduce production on their own terms, without government or regulatory mandates, as they invest far less in exploration and production.

“The American oil industry has avoided a worst-case scenario,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy and Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There still will be bankruptcies, but for the time being, the fears that there would be a wholesale destruction of the industry can now be put aside, because the worst of the price war has passed.”

What happened in recent days may support an industry that directly and indirectly employs nearly 10 million Americans. The surge in U.S. production in recent years has reduced dependence on foreign oil, and lowered prices at the gas pump for consumers.

Uncertainties remain for the industry. Virtual summits of oil-producing nations and Group of 20 energy ministers on Thursday and Friday ended with some ambiguity, when Mexico balked at an agreement fashioned by Russia and Saudi Arabia to collectively reduce production by 10 million barrels a day. But the two oil powers appeared ready to give Mexico a pass, after President Trump made a vague promise that the United States would make the cuts its southern neighbor refused to make.

Members of the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had entered talks hoping that the United States, Canada and other western producers would agree to explicit cuts, adding up to another 4 million or 5 million barrels a day. Instead, American officials just made assurances that crude output would be reduced over time, on top of voluntary reductions that have already begun at some U.S. companies.

The global oil industry still has many problems. The collapse in economic activity caused by the coronavirus has reduced demand by an estimated 30 million to 35 million barrels a day, according to international energy agencies and oil consultants.

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Analysts expect oil prices, which soared above $100 a barrel only six years ago, to remain below $40 for the foreseeable future. The American oil benchmark price was just under $25 a barrel.

But a complete free-fall of oil prices into the single digits — something not seen in two decades — appears to have been avoided. President Trump’s recent public lobbying of Russia and Saudi Arabia to lower production helped raise prices several dollars a barrel, allowing many American companies to reduce their exposure to dropping prices by hedging. By fixing their sale prices at a higher level that was closer to break-even for shale wells, they were able to limit their losses.

American oil companies are already eliminating thousands of jobs, plugging old wells and decommissioning rigs and fracking equipment in preparation for the worst downturn in more than a generation. Oil-producing states like Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota are expecting deep losses in jobs and tax revenue.

Falling demand for oil around the world may cause American oil exports, which reached more than 3 million barrels a day last year, to dry up almost completely. Concerns about climate change will continue to dog the industry and scare away investors.

But industry executives predict consolidation, in which small, indebted companies are either bought by larger ones or merge. Drops in production will come as market conditions of supply and demand dictate. American oil production has already fallen several thousand barrels a day over the last two months and will probably decline another 2 million barrels a day through the end of the year, according to the Energy Department.

”There will be some companies that won’t survive,” said Trent Latshaw, president of Latshaw Drilling, an oil service company active in Texas and Oklahoma. “But the industry in general will survive and come out of this stronger. We will have to make hard decisions, innovate, and we’ll become smarter because of this.”

The scenario is similar to the last time Saudi Arabia and its OPEC allies flooded the market with oil in 2014 in an effort to undercut American shale producers who were taking market share away from them. Prices crashed and hundreds of American companies went out of business, and 170,000 jobs were lost. While American production briefly dropped, it quickly recovered and grew.

The coronavirus is a new and bigger challenge to the industry, and that challenge was briefly magnified when Russia last month refused to go along with Saudi Arabia in cutting supplies. Russian oil executives said they were tired of losing market share to American producers. Saudi Arabia retaliated by promising to pour more oil on the market, taking prices to roughly $20 a barrel for a time, less than half the level at the beginning of the year.

The decision by Saudi Arabia to put an additional 300,000 barrels a day on the market was a huge gamble that backfired, and it is possible oil prices will sink again in the coming days if traders are not satisfied with the cuts announced by Saudi Arabia, Russia and their alliance partners. In fact, on Thursday, the last day that oil prices traded, crude oil futures fell sharply even as the oil producers were close to a deal.

Behind all the blustery wheeling and dealing, Saudi Arabia did succeed in bringing Russia back into the fold of an alliance of producers called OPEC+. But caught off guard by the size of the price drop, both Saudi Arabia and Russia needed to reverse course and make supply cuts to prop up crude prices.

“There were miscalculations on both sides,” said Ben Cahill, a senior energy fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The Russians miscalculated how sharp the Saudi response would be and they might have been taken aback by how deep the price drop was.”

“Saudi Arabia will have big budget deficits, they’ll have to issue a lot more debt, they’ll need to run down their reserves, and the longer this cycle goes on, the more destructive it is,’’ Mr. Cahill added.

With the pandemic crushing economies around the world, few buyers were available in recent weeks to buy the cheap Saudi crude. The kingdom stored some oil in Egypt and was forced to let unsold crude sit in tankers along its coasts.

The mounting glut became a threat to Saudi government finances. At a projected average price of $34 a barrel this year, the Norwegian consultant Rystad Energy estimated, the kingdom’s revenues would be 50 percent lower than in 2019, a loss of $105 billion.

Saudi Arabia still has foreign reserves of $500 billion, but that has shrunk from $740 billion in 2013. Several years of depressed oil prices forced the kingdom to borrow money and reduce energy subsidies for its citizens. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is now counting on his reserves to help diversify the Saudi economy for the future.

Russia is in far better shape financially than Saudi Arabia, especially with a flexible exchange rate — as the ruble depreciates, the value of its exports rises. While it would also lose billions of dollars in revenues with the drop in oil prices, the government has a much lower fiscal deficit than Saudi Arabia and has $550 billion in foreign reserves.

But Russia has other liabilities. It has limited processing capacity and its refineries have insufficient storage facilities. It relies on long pipelines to take its oil to European and Asian buyers. But European demand has collapsed, and Russia’s storage tanks are quickly filling. China is still buying oil, at bargain prices, but its storage will be filled up in another month or so, leaving Russian crude stranded.

With thousands of Soviet-era oil and gas wells in western Siberia, Russia would be faced with the prospect of shutting down and later turning back on wells, an expensive proposition, and in the process might permanently limit the amount of oil recoverable in the future.

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OPEC and Russia Agree to Cut Production by 10 Million Barrels a Day

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other countries reached a tentative agreement on Thursday to temporarily cut production, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

OPEC and the other oil-producing countries agreed to cut about 10 million barrels a day, or about 10 percent from normal production levels, in May and June, said this person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made official. Possible further trims could come from a meeting of the Group of 20 nations on Friday.

Oil prices fell because analysts and traders had hoped for a bigger reduction to prevent the buildup of a glut of oil. On Thursday afternoon, the West Texas Intermediate crude future contract, the American benchmark, was down more than 7 percent to $23.28 a barrel.

Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, a research firm, said markets would not be impressed by the deal.

“In a nutshell, the demand declines are going to be greater than the production declines,” said Ms. Sen. She estimated that demand would be down 25 million barrels a day, or about one-quarter of normal consumption, in April.

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In addition, the new cuts won’t begin until May, allowing oil supplies to increase. There are also doubts about whether some of the countries party to the cuts, like Iraq, which often produces whatever it can, will really observe them. Ms. Sen said that OPEC and its collaborators were largely doing what they would be forced to do anyway.

“With the sharp decline in demand, global producers will be forced to shut in production because we will run out of storage space, “ she said. “OPEC plus is simply codifying what they would have had to cut anyway.”

Still, the meeting appears to be at least a start at tackling the most serious problem the oil industry and OPEC countries have encountered in decades. The decision to cut might go some way toward assuaging growing tensions between members of the cartel and the United States.

The meeting was called by Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, after President Trump spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker.

The Saudis have been engaged in a price war with Russia after Moscow refused to go along with a Saudi proposal in early March to trim output to address a sharp drop in demand because of the coronavirus pandemic. The spat threatens to swamp oil markets, including those in the United States, with excessive supplies of crude.

OPEC’s secretary general, Mohammad Barkindo, acknowledged in his introductory remarks that the glut of oil had put his organization in a weak position. The Saudis, for instance, have loaded huge volumes of crude onto tankers but are said to be having trouble finding buyers for all the oil.

“Our industry is hemorrhaging; no one has been able to stem the bleeding,” he said, according to text of his remarks posted on the OPEC website. “It is imperative we take urgent action.”

Some producers in the United States also face difficulty selling and storing oil. Analysts from Wood Mackenzie, a research firm, said during a webinar on Thursday that storage tanks at Cushing, Okla., probably the most important such location in the United States, were filling at record speeds, putting pressure on prices.

With the industry in the United States threatened with job losses and bankruptcies, the Trump administration has been pushing the Saudis and Russians to cut. In an interview Thursday on CNBC, the energy secretary, Dan Brouillette, said that OPEC and its allies “can easily get to 10 million, perhaps even higher, and certainly higher if you include the other nations that produce oil, nations like Canada, Brazil, others.”

The U.S. oil industry and the Trump administration have so far brushed off the idea of engaging in coordinated cuts with OPEC and Russia, but American producers are already contributing to production trims. Mr. Brouilette said that the steep fall in demand because of the pandemic would lead to a reduction of production in the United States of two million barrels a day by the end of the year. With storage space “running out, at some point everyone is going to cut production,” he said.

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Trump Sees Hope for Boosting Global Oil Prices and Helping U.S. Firms

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WASHINGTON — When oil prices crashed in early March after a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia, President Trump put a positive spin on the news. “Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!” he wrote on Twitter as markets tumbled. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said that falling gasoline prices amounted to “the greatest tax cut we’ve ever given.”

But the president has also nervously eyed the dire threat that American energy producers face from rock-bottom oil prices, and American officials have spent weeks pressing Saudi Arabia and Russia to settle a dispute that has created a global oil glut and further shaken an already-traumatized global economy.

Leaning on two authoritarian leaders he has befriended as president, Mr. Trump spoke this week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, urging them to bolster prices by cutting their domestic oil production.

In two tweets on Thursday, Mr. Trump said that he expected they would jointly cut output by as much as 15 million barrels in a move that he said would “be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!”

Prices for Brent crude initially leapt by nearly 50 percent after Mr. Trump’s tweets, but dipped again as it became unclear whether his supposed breakthrough would materialize.

Neither Russia nor Saudi Arabia publicly committed to such a cut, and a Saudi statement issued on Thursday called only for a meeting of oil producing nations to reach a “fair agreement.” The Kremlin cast further doubt on the possibility, denying a claim that Mr. Trump made on Twitter that Mr. Putin had discussed the matter with the crown prince.

The picture emerged of a president eager to find some good economic news amid the pain of a largely shuttered domestic economy, and of an embattled Saudi leadership feeling financial strain of its own, perhaps seeking the favor of Mr. Trump. Analysts said the major outstanding question was how Moscow, which has been waging a price war with Riyadh, will respond.

Executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Occidental, Devon, Phillips 66, Energy Transfer and Continental Resources are scheduled to meet on Friday with Mr. Trump at the White House, according to two industry insiders familiar with the plans.

Deal or no, Mr. Trump’s unusual oil diplomacy and his eagerness to claim a victory reflects his growing anxiety about the United States’ coronavirus-gripped economy. It also underscores his sudden reliance, after years of happy talk about growing American energy independence, on foreign oil industries. But if Mr. Putin and Prince Mohammed fail to strike an agreement that bolsters global oil prices, Mr. Trump will find himself left twisting in the wind by two repressive leaders whose good will he has spent years cultivating at significant political cost.

Writing Thursday on Twitter, Mr. Trump said he had spoken that morning to Prince Mohammed, who told him he had been in touch with Mr. Putin, adding: “I expect & hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10 Million Barrels, and maybe substantially more which, if it happens, will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!” In a subsequent tweet, Mr. Trump said the production cut could be five million barrels per day larger.

American oil executives immediately reacted positively to the tweet. “I’m totally surprised and I’m glad the president took charge,” said Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major Texas oil company, who has urged the Trump administration to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and Russia.

But the Kremlin quickly played down Mr. Trump’s statement. Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for Mr. Putin, told the Interfax news agency that the Russian president had not spoken with the Saudi crown prince. “No, there was no conversation,” he said.

Tass, a Russian state news agency, carried a more pointed exchange in which the Kremlin spokesman declined to say whether Mr. Trump might be manipulating markets. Asked if Mr. Trump had “intentionally mistaken” news about a phone call, Mr. Peskov said, “It’s difficult for me to answer.”

Oil prices have been hammered in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has all but eliminated travel and dampened demand for energy. The price war that broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia last month intensified the decline.

After failing to reach a deal on production cuts in March, Saudi Arabia and Russia began pumping huge amounts of oil, adding to a world glut. One aim has been to gain market share from American producers that have been increasing output and exports in recent years. But as Saudi Arabia has been shipping new production, it has been having trouble finding buyers.

The combination of slumping demand and the contest between two of the world’s largest oil producers had pushed crude oil prices down by 55 percent in March alone, wreaking havoc on the energy industry, with oil companies slashing budgets and refineries cutting production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

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.

“It looks like Riyadh might be willing to compromise a little more with Moscow because, in the cold light of day, this isn’t going to work very well for Saudi Arabia — or Russia for that matter,” Mr. Ibish said. “But they’re also clearly linking it to pressure from the U.S. in general and Trump in particular, and making it clear that they are trying to, in effect, do him a favor.”

Saudi Arabia’s statement on Thursday said its call for a meeting of oil producers was “in appreciation of President Donald Trump of the United States of America’s request and the U.S. friends’ request.”

Russia has its own problems in the face of shrinking demand. It has thousands of aging oil wells across Siberia far from markets that will soon be producing oil with no place to go. Shutting those wells would deprive the country revenues, but also lead to extra costs to revive them later, a process that could damage some of the fields permanently.

In one indication that Russia had softened its stance, Russia’s energy minister, Aleksandr Novak, told Reuters that Russia no longer planned to ramp up production after the collapse of its deal with OPEC last month.

But some energy analysts predicted that even after supply cuts, global oil prices would soon resume their steep decline because markets are likely to be oversupplied through at least the first half of the year. A recent Citibank research report said that any potential agreement by American, Saudi and Russians officials “looks like it is too little too late.”

President Trump said on Thursday that he did not agree to cut American oil production in return for cuts from Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The $25 price for the American oil benchmark is still at least $15 below the break-even price for the typical American oil well, leaving much of the industry in jeopardy unless demand recovers quickly. Nevertheless, deeply depressed shares of Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips surged by more than 8 percent after Mr. Trump’s tweet.

The industry received little from the recent $2.2 billion stimulus package, as Congress refused to endorse an administration proposal to buy $3 billion in oil to add to stockpiles in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Analysts said that because of the crushing economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic, cuts in oil production were inevitable.

“Oil production is going to go down anyhow,” said Bhushan Bahree, a senior director at IHS Markit, a research firm. “The question is whether they are going to be managed or enforced through brutal shutdowns.”

Michael Crowley reported from Washington, Clifford Krauss from Houston and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow. Mark Mazzetti and Edward Wong contributed reporting from Washington, and Stanley Reed from London.

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Jeff Bezos’ Hack Inquiry Falls Short of Implicating National Enquirer

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Almost a year ago, Jeff Bezos hinted that Saudi Arabia had played a role in The National Enquirer’s 11-page exposé of his affair with the Los Angeles television personality Lauren Sanchez. In making the case in a post on the website Medium, Mr. Bezos noted that his newspaper, The Washington Post, had published the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and had also covered the kingdom’s suspected role in his murder.

In the post, Mr. Bezos said he had retained the security expert Gavin de Becker to investigate how the tabloid had obtained his text messages. This week, a forensic analysis commissioned by Mr. Bezos was made public, and it concluded with “medium to high confidence” that his iPhone X had been hacked after he received a video from a WhatsApp message sent to him from an account reportedly belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, with whom the billionaire had swapped contacts at a dinner in Los Angeles.

The Bezos report, compiled under Mr. de Becker by the digital security firm FTI Consulting, was so juicy that it overwhelmed traditional journalistic skepticism at some news outlets. The details were hard to resist: an allegedly murderous crown prince, the world’s richest man and his intimate texts splashed across the pages of a supermarket tabloid that has ties to Prince Mohammed and a longtime Bezos detractor, President Trump.

In the swirl of coverage, Mr. Bezos’ allegations took on a life of their own, with some news coverage veering into speculation. “The report offers one explanation of how The National Enquirer, a tabloid, obtained and published text messages Bezos had sent to his mistress,” CNBC reported. The BBC asserted that information extracted from Mr. Bezos’ phone was “leaked to the American tabloid.”

In fact, the report did not definitively link the hacking to the Enquirer exposé. Months of reporting by The New York Times and other publications, including information that has emerged in recent days, appears to refute the notion that The Enquirer, owned by American Media Inc., received the information for the exposé from a foreign hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone.

The hacking of an American by a foreign leader would count as an affront to national sovereignty and security under normal protocols. It also has legal implications: American Media is under the watch of federal law enforcement officials in New York, who have agreed not to prosecute the company for its role in aiding President Trump’s 2016 campaign as long as it does not break the law.

The widespread coverage of the report also has personal implications for Mr. Bezos, who has achieved something of a coup in this latest bit of news.

On Feb. 7, weeks after The Enquirer’s exposé appeared in supermarket racks, Mr. Bezos published the Medium article suggesting a possible connection between Saudi Arabia and the tabloid scoop. He noted that The Post was energetically covering Mr. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi assassins weeks after he wrote the last in a series of columns sharply critical of the crown prince, who the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded had ordered his death.

About two weeks after Mr. Bezos’ Medium post, Mr. de Becker hired FTI Consulting to do the forensic analysis of the billionaire’s iPhone. In March, Mr. de Becker said he had “high confidence” that Saudi Arabia had hacked Mr. Bezos’ phone. The FTI Consulting report that was made public this week did not offer evidence of a link between the hacking and the Enquirer story.

American Media has said that it obtained information about the affair from Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, a Hollywood talent agent whom people at The Enquirer have described as a longtime source of information and tips.

Mr. Sanchez and American Media executed a nondisclosure agreement on Oct. 18, 2018, “concerning certain information, photographs and text messages documenting an affair between Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez,” according to a contract between the two parties reviewed by The New York Times.

Eight days later, Mr. Sanchez granted American Media the right to publish and license the text messages and photographs he had provided in exchange for $200,000, according to the contract and four people with knowledge of the arrangement.

“The single source of our reporting has been well documented,” American Media said in a statement. “In September of 2018, Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”

After federal agents and prosecutors examined allegations of wrongdoing by American Media in connection with the Bezos story last year, the company provided evidence showing them that Ms. Sanchez had provided text messages and compromising photos of Mr. Bezos to her brother, who passed them along to the tabloid, according to four people with knowledge of the situation.

That does not preclude the possibility that Saudi Arabia could have sent other useful information to The Enquirer. Nor were Mr. Bezos and his investigators off-base in suspecting a possible link between the tabloid and the kingdom. American Media and Saudi Arabia had both tried to build relationships with Mr. Trump, and one way to the president’s heart could have been an attack on Mr. Bezos, whom Mr. Trump once referred to as “Jeff Bozo” in a Twitter post.

At the same time, the American Media chairman David J. Pecker sought business opportunities and financing in Saudi Arabia. He met with Prince Mohammed in Saudi Arabia in 2017 after attending a White House dinner with a well-connected contact of the crown prince. In March 2018, American Media published a 97-page glossy magazine, “The New Kingdom,” essentially a promotional brochure for the crown prince and the nation.

Starting in September 2017, The Post had published columns by Mr. Khashoggi in which he excoriated Prince Mohammed for “unbearable repression,” “behaving like Putin” and “squeezing” the Saudi news media.

Mr. Bezos, who had sought to build data centers in the desert kingdom before Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, met Prince Mohammed in person at a dinner in Los Angeles in April 2018. The two chatted and exchanged contacts. Mr. Bezos’ forensic team said that Prince Mohammed sent Mr. Bezos the suspect video shortly afterward.

The relationship between Mr. Bezos and the Saudis deteriorated after Mr. Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The Post demanded answers amid a growing consensus in the intelligence community that Prince Mohammed was involved.

Mr. Sanchez has said that The Enquirer was already onto the story about the affair before he discussed it with the tabloid, suggesting there was another source. Saudi Arabia has said it had nothing to do with it and has also called suggestions it hacked Mr. Bezos’ phone “absurd.”

Two people with knowledge of The Enquirer’s reporting process said that its staff started trailing Mr. Bezos after one of its reporters received a tip on Sept. 10, 2018, from Mr. Sanchez that a well-known billionaire was having an affair with an actress. Mr. Sanchez didn’t disclose their identities, but the tabloid staff suspected he was referring to Mr. Bezos.

On Oct. 18, The Enquirer’s photographers snapped pictures of Mr. Bezos with Ms. Sanchez. That same day Mr. Sanchez and American Media executed their agreement to prevent him from shopping the story elsewhere.

The following month, according to the FTI Consulting report, which was reviewed by United Nations experts, Mr. Bezos received another message on his phone from the crown prince, this one featuring a photograph of a woman with a resemblance to Ms. Sanchez and a misogynistic joke: “Arguing with a woman is like reading the Software License agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.” FTI interpreted the message as a veiled suggestion that the crown prince knew about his relationship with Ms. Sanchez, which had not yet been made public, according to the report.

At the time, American Media had just emerged from a cloud of suspicion for its role in buying and burying information from the former Playboy model Karen McDougal about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump. After American Media executives admitted that they had effectively paid her hush money to help Mr. Trump’s campaign — in violation of federal election law — they cooperated with an investigation into the payment. Federal prosecutors in New York agreed not to prosecute, at least as long as the company did not break the law again.

The Enquirer’s story about the Bezos affair, including intimate text messages sent by Mr. Bezos and photographs of the couple on the terrace of what the tabloid described as Ms. Sanchez’s “love nest,” upset the company’s majority investors, according to two people with knowledge of American Media.

In his Medium post, Mr. Bezos revealed that his team had received threatening emails from American Media’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, that described revealing photos of Mr. Bezos that the tabloid had yet to publish.

In the letter from Mr. Howard and a second letter from an American Media lawyer that Mr. Bezos included in his account, the company said that it would not publish the compromising selfies if Mr. Bezos publicly stated that he did not believe that the tabloid publisher was politically motivated in publishing the exposé.

Mr. Bezos called the offer “extortion and blackmail” in his Medium post. He added that he was motivated “to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,” and Mr. de Becker went to work.

The evidence in the resulting report shows evidence of Saudi intrusions into his iPhone X. But a direct link from the kingdom to the tabloid tale remains elusive.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked

SAN FRANCISCO — On the afternoon of May 1, 2018, Jeff Bezos received a message on WhatsApp from an account belonging to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

The two men had previously communicated using the messaging platform, but Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, had not expected a message that day — let alone one with a video of Saudi and Swedish flags with Arabic text.

The video, a file of more than 4.4 megabytes, was more than it appeared, according to a forensic analysis that Mr. Bezos commissioned and paid for to discover who had hacked his iPhone X. Hidden in that file was a separate bit of code that most likely implanted malware that gave attackers access to Mr. Bezos’ entire phone, including his photos and private communications.

Mr. Bezos has been on a singular quest to find out who penetrated the device since early 2019, when he said The National Enquirer’s parent company had threatened to release private photographs and texts, and the forensic study was part of that effort. Those pictures and messages showed Mr. Bezos, who was married at the time, with another woman, Lauren Sanchez. The analysis did not connect the hack to The Enquirer.

The forensic report on Mr. Bezos’ phone was at the heart of a United Nations statement on Wednesday raising concerns about Prince Mohammed. The analysis essentially accused the Saudi prince of using malware created by a private cybersecurity company to spy on and to intimidate Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. At the time of the hack, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, was employed at The Post, which has published coverage critical of the Saudi government. Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in late 2018.

Many technical mysteries remain about the infiltration of Mr. Bezos’ phone, including what type of malware was used. The forensic report did not detail whether Mr. Bezos had opened the file that was sent to him via Crown Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account. Cybersecurity experts said some malware did not require anyone to click on the file for it to install on a phone.

The details of the hack could not be independently verified by The New York Times. Mr. Bezos has been pushing a theory of Saudi involvement with the threats from The Enquirer, without providing proof, since early 2019. The Enquirer’s parent company has said Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael, was the sole source of the texts and intimate photos it acquired.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington has said that accusations that the kingdom was involved in hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone were “absurd.

The report’s conclusions renew questions about the shadowy world of private hackers for hire. For the right client, or the right sum, such hackers apparently infiltrated the phone of one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men. The report did not say which private cybersecurity company was used, but suggested that the Tel Aviv-based NSO Group and Milan-based Hacking Team had the capabilities for such an attack.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589126_eff65b38-30ad-4782-9ce7-6665e1a336e8-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

Some of the texts that Mr. Bezos exchanged with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on WhatsApp.Credit…via FTI

The hack also exposed how popular messaging platforms like WhatsApp have vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. In October, WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in federal court, claiming that NSO’s spy technology was used on its service to target journalists and human rights activists. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has patched the flaw that the malware used.

“This case really highlights the threats that are posed by a lawless and unaccountable private surveillance industry,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur who was a co-author of Wednesday’s statement. “The companies who are creating these tools are extremely crafty and aggressive, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game at this point.”

NSO said it was not involved in any hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone. Hacking Team did not respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment, as did FTI Consulting, the company that Mr. Bezos’ security team hired to examine his phone and that wrote the forensic analysis. Amazon declined to comment on behalf of Mr. Bezos.

Malware that was created for the explicit purpose of prying into private online communications, also known as spyware, has become a $1 billion industry. While companies like the NSO Group and Hacking Team have been accused of deploying their spyware with governments to monitor dissidents and others, smaller companies also sell simpler versions of the software for as little as $10, allowing people to snoop on their spouses or children.

Ron Deibert, the director of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which was not involved in the Bezos investigation, said the Amazon chief’s situation was “a reminder that the proliferation of commercial spyware is a global security problem for all sectors, from government and businesses to civil society.”

Over the years that he has run Amazon, Mr. Bezos has largely kept private. That changed when The National Enquirer published photos and messages last year between him and Ms. Sanchez, a TV anchor. Mr. Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, later got a divorce.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589129_4ca70071-cec4-47aa-8c76-ca5cabb20b63-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

The WhatsApp message that contained a video file sent to Mr. Bezos from the account of Prince Mohammed. The file contained malware, investigators said in a forensic analysis.Credit…via FTI

On Feb. 7, 2019, Mr. Bezos went public with his claims. In a post on Medium, he accused The Enquirer of trying to blackmail him with his own text messages and photos and said he had asked Gavin de Becker, a private investigator, to determine how his phone had been hacked.

Ten days later, Mr. de Becker was advised by a “leading intelligence expert” to conduct a forensic analysis of Mr. Bezos’ iPhone and to look for Saudi fingerprints in the hack, according to notes in the report. The report did not identify the intelligence expert who reached out to Mr. de Becker.

Mr. de Becker, who declined to comment, hired FTI Consulting on Feb. 24, 2019, to examine Mr. Bezos’ phone. FTI was initially asked to look into several text messages that Mr. Bezos had received from the WhatsApp account of the Saudi prince. In mid-May 2019, Mr. Bezos handed over his iPhone X and asked FTI to run a full analysis on it, according to the report.

FTI zeroed in on an April 2018 dinner in which Prince Mohammed and Mr. Bezos had exchanged phone numbers in Los Angeles. After that, FTI found, the WhatsApp account of the prince initiated contact with Mr. Bezos repeatedly and without prompting.

The May 2018 message that contained the innocuous-seeming video file, with a tiny 14-byte chunk of malicious code, came out of the blue, according to the report and additional notes obtained by The New York Times. In the 24 hours after it was sent, Mr. Bezos’ iPhone began sending large amounts of data, which increased approximately 29,000 percent over his normal data usage.

In the additional notes to the report, investigators said several phone apps were being used during the time that data was leaving the phone. Those included the Safari web browser and the Apple Mail program, both of which Mr. Bezos did not appear to be using heavily himself. Mr. Bezos did not have iCloud backup enabled on the phone, the notes added, which would have also explained large amounts of data leaving the phone.

Messages sent by Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account starting in late 2018 soon began to suggest that the sender had intimate knowledge of Mr. Bezos’ private life. On Nov. 8, 2018, the report said, Mr. Bezos received a message from the account that included a photo of a woman resembling Ms. Sanchez.

The photo was captioned, “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”

At the time, Mr. Bezos and his wife were discussing divorce, which would have been apparent to anyone reading his text messages.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589132_cf7a619f-695f-4949-9429-fe5a0df925c6-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

A text sent to Mr. Bezos from Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account included a photo of a woman who resembled Lauren Sanchez, who Mr. Bezos was seeing.Credit…via FTI Cybersecurity

In mid-February 2019, Mr. Bezos held a series of phone calls with his security team about the Saudis’ alleged online campaign against him, the report said. Two days later, Mr. Bezos received a message from Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account that read, in part, “there is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”

The report listed spyware known as Pegasus, developed by the NSO Group, and spyware called Galileo, developed by Hacking Team, as the two most likely tools used to carry out the attack. The report added that Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser of Prince Mohammed, owned a 20 percent stake in Hacking Team.

The FTI report was not definitive about the hack, but said it had “medium to high confidence” that the message from the prince’s WhatsApp account was the culprit. In notes to the report, FTI said it was still attempting a more thorough analysis of the iPhone, including by jailbreaking it, or bypassing Apple’s control system on the phone.

Some cybersecurity experts said more information about the hack was needed to verify the report’s conclusions. Bill Marczak, a cyber expert at Citizen Lab, said in a blog post on Wednesday that technology existed for decrypting the WhatsApp messages to see more detail about the video file that was sent.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur who also co-wrote Wednesday’s statement, said the episode was “a wake-up call to the international community as a whole that we are facing a technology that is very difficult to track, extremely powerful and effective, and that is completely unregulated.”

She said Mr. Bezos’ experience should sound alarms because even with his wealth and resources, it took months of investigation by specialists to figure out what had happened — a luxury few others have.

“It basically means that we are all extremely vulnerable,” she said.

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut, and Karen Weise from Seattle.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked

SAN FRANCISCO — On the afternoon of May 1, 2018, Jeff Bezos received a message on WhatsApp from an account belonging to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

The two men had previously communicated using the messaging platform, but Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, had not expected a message that day — let alone one with a video of Saudi and Swedish flags with Arabic text.

The video, a file of more than 4.4 megabytes, was more than it appeared, according to a forensic analysis that Mr. Bezos commissioned and paid for to discover who had hacked his iPhone X. Hidden in that file was a separate bit of code that most likely implanted malware that gave attackers access to Mr. Bezos’ entire phone, including his photos and private communications.

Mr. Bezos has been on a singular quest to find out who penetrated the device since early 2019, when he said The National Enquirer’s parent company had threatened to release private photographs and texts, and the forensic study was part of that effort. Those pictures and messages showed Mr. Bezos, who was married at the time, with another woman, Lauren Sanchez. The analysis did not connect the hack to The Enquirer.

The forensic report on Mr. Bezos’ phone was at the heart of a United Nations statement on Wednesday raising concerns about Prince Mohammed. The analysis essentially accused the Saudi prince of using malware created by a private cybersecurity company to spy on and to intimidate Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. At the time of the hack, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, was employed at The Post, which has published coverage critical of the Saudi government. Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in late 2018.

Many technical mysteries remain about the infiltration of Mr. Bezos’ phone, including what type of malware was used. The forensic report did not detail whether Mr. Bezos had opened the file that was sent to him via Crown Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account. Cybersecurity experts said some malware did not require anyone to click on the file for it to install on a phone.

The details of the hack could not be independently verified by The New York Times. Mr. Bezos has been pushing a theory of Saudi involvement with the threats from The Enquirer, without providing proof, since early 2019. The Enquirer’s parent company has said Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael, was the sole source of the texts and intimate photos it acquired.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington has said that accusations that the kingdom was involved in hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone were “absurd.

The report’s conclusions renew questions about the shadowy world of private hackers for hire. For the right client, or the right sum, such hackers apparently infiltrated the phone of one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men. The report did not say which private cybersecurity company was used, but suggested that the Tel Aviv-based NSO Group and Milan-based Hacking Team had the capabilities for such an attack.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589126_eff65b38-30ad-4782-9ce7-6665e1a336e8-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

Some of the texts that Mr. Bezos exchanged with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on WhatsApp.Credit…via FTI

The hack also exposed how popular messaging platforms like WhatsApp have vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. In October, WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in federal court, claiming that NSO’s spy technology was used on its service to target journalists and human rights activists. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has patched the flaw that the malware used.

“This case really highlights the threats that are posed by a lawless and unaccountable private surveillance industry,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur who was a co-author of Wednesday’s statement. “The companies who are creating these tools are extremely crafty and aggressive, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game at this point.”

NSO said it was not involved in any hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone. Hacking Team did not respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment, as did FTI Consulting, the company that Mr. Bezos’ security team hired to examine his phone and that wrote the forensic analysis. Amazon declined to comment on behalf of Mr. Bezos.

Malware that was created for the explicit purpose of prying into private online communications, also known as spyware, has become a $1 billion industry. While companies like the NSO Group and Hacking Team have been accused of deploying their spyware with governments to monitor dissidents and others, smaller companies also sell simpler versions of the software for as little as $10, allowing people to snoop on their spouses or children.

Ron Deibert, the director of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which was not involved in the Bezos investigation, said the Amazon chief’s situation was “a reminder that the proliferation of commercial spyware is a global security problem for all sectors, from government and businesses to civil society.”

Over the years that he has run Amazon, Mr. Bezos has largely kept private. That changed when The National Enquirer published photos and messages last year between him and Ms. Sanchez, a TV anchor. Mr. Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, later got a divorce.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589129_4ca70071-cec4-47aa-8c76-ca5cabb20b63-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

The WhatsApp message that contained a video file sent to Mr. Bezos from the account of Prince Mohammed. The file contained malware, investigators said in a forensic analysis.Credit…via FTI

On Feb. 7, 2019, Mr. Bezos went public with his claims. In a post on Medium, he accused The Enquirer of trying to blackmail him with his own text messages and photos and said he had asked Gavin de Becker, a private investigator, to determine how his phone had been hacked.

Ten days later, Mr. de Becker was advised by a “leading intelligence expert” to conduct a forensic analysis of Mr. Bezos’ iPhone and to look for Saudi fingerprints in the hack, according to notes in the report. The report did not identify the intelligence expert who reached out to Mr. de Becker.

Mr. de Becker, who declined to comment, hired FTI Consulting on Feb. 24, 2019, to examine Mr. Bezos’ phone. FTI was initially asked to look into several text messages that Mr. Bezos had received from the WhatsApp account of the Saudi prince. In mid-May 2019, Mr. Bezos handed over his iPhone X and asked FTI to run a full analysis on it, according to the report.

FTI zeroed in on an April 2018 dinner in which Prince Mohammed and Mr. Bezos had exchanged phone numbers in Los Angeles. After that, FTI found, the WhatsApp account of the prince initiated contact with Mr. Bezos repeatedly and without prompting.

The May 2018 message that contained the innocuous-seeming video file, with a tiny 14-byte chunk of malicious code, came out of the blue, according to the report and additional notes obtained by The New York Times. In the 24 hours after it was sent, Mr. Bezos’ iPhone began sending large amounts of data, which increased approximately 29,000 percent over his normal data usage.

In the additional notes to the report, investigators said several phone apps were being used during the time that data was leaving the phone. Those included the Safari web browser and the Apple Mail program, both of which Mr. Bezos did not appear to be using heavily himself. Mr. Bezos did not have iCloud backup enabled on the phone, the notes added, which would have also explained large amounts of data leaving the phone.

Messages sent by Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account starting in late 2018 soon began to suggest that the sender had intimate knowledge of Mr. Bezos’ private life. On Nov. 8, 2018, the report said, Mr. Bezos received a message from the account that included a photo of a woman resembling Ms. Sanchez.

The photo was captioned, “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”

At the time, Mr. Bezos and his wife were discussing divorce, which would have been apparent to anyone reading his text messages.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167589132_cf7a619f-695f-4949-9429-fe5a0df925c6-articleLarge How Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Was Hacked WhatsApp Inc Washington Post NSO Group national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Instant Messaging Hacking Team SRL Forensic Science Cyberattacks and Hackers Computers and the Internet Bezos, Jeffrey P Amazon.com Inc

A text sent to Mr. Bezos from Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account included a photo of a woman who resembled Lauren Sanchez, who Mr. Bezos was seeing.Credit…via FTI Cybersecurity

In mid-February 2019, Mr. Bezos held a series of phone calls with his security team about the Saudis’ alleged online campaign against him, the report said. Two days later, Mr. Bezos received a message from Prince Mohammed’s WhatsApp account that read, in part, “there is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”

The report listed spyware known as Pegasus, developed by the NSO Group, and spyware called Galileo, developed by Hacking Team, as the two most likely tools used to carry out the attack. The report added that Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser of Prince Mohammed, owned a 20 percent stake in Hacking Team.

The FTI report was not definitive about the hack, but said it had “medium to high confidence” that the message from the prince’s WhatsApp account was the culprit. In notes to the report, FTI said it was still attempting a more thorough analysis of the iPhone, including by jailbreaking it, or bypassing Apple’s control system on the phone.

Some cybersecurity experts said more information about the hack was needed to verify the report’s conclusions. Bill Marczak, a cyber expert at Citizen Lab, said in a blog post on Wednesday that technology existed for decrypting the WhatsApp messages to see more detail about the video file that was sent.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur who also co-wrote Wednesday’s statement, said the episode was “a wake-up call to the international community as a whole that we are facing a technology that is very difficult to track, extremely powerful and effective, and that is completely unregulated.”

She said Mr. Bezos’ experience should sound alarms because even with his wealth and resources, it took months of investigation by specialists to figure out what had happened — a luxury few others have.

“It basically means that we are all extremely vulnerable,” she said.

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut, and Karen Weise from Seattle.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Analysis Ties Hacking of Bezos’ Phone to Saudi Leader’s Account

Westlake Legal Group 21bezoshack-facebookJumbo Analysis Ties Hacking of Bezos’ Phone to Saudi Leader’s Account Text Messaging national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Khashoggi, Jamal Instant Messaging FTI Consulting Inc Cyberwarfare and Defense Classified Information and State Secrets Bezos, Jeffrey P Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations American Media Inc Amazon.com Inc

SEATTLE — A forensic analysis of Jeff Bezos’ cellphone found with “medium to high confidence” that the Amazon chief’s device was hacked after he received a video from a WhatsApp account reportedly belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

After Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, got the video over the WhatsApp messaging platform in 2018, his phone began sending unusually large volumes of data, according to a report summing up investigators’ findings, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

The investigators believed Prince Mohammed was used as a conduit because the message would not raise suspicions if it came from him, said a person familiar with the investigation, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

According to the report, Mr. Bezos received a message from the crown prince’s account in late 2018 that suggested that the prince had intimate knowledge of Mr. Bezos’ private life.

The forensics investigation was completed on behalf of Mr. Bezos by Anthony Ferrante at the business advisory firm FTI Consulting. Mr. Ferrante declined to comment through a FTI spokesman.

After the findings were reported by The Guardian and The Financial Times, the Saudi Embassy denied that the Saudi government was involved.

“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the Saudi Embassy said on Twitter. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”

Mr. Bezos’ security consultant, Gavin de Becker, had previously accused the Saudi government of hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone, saying the Saudi authorities targeted him because he owned The Washington Post. The Post has aggressively reported on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, one of its columnists, who was a critic of the Saudi government. The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

According to FTI’s report, Mr. Bezos and Prince Mohammed exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in Los Angeles in April 2018. The crown prince initiated a messaging conversation with Mr. Bezos that same day over WhatsApp.

About a month later, Mr. Bezos received an unexpected message from the crown prince that contained a video attachment, the report said.

The report did not say whether Mr. Bezos opened the video attachment, which had an image of Saudi and Swedish flags overlaid with Arabic text. But immediately after he received the file, the amount of data exiting his phone increased almost three hundredfold, according to the investigators’ analysis of Mr. Bezos’s data.

On two later occasions, according to the report, the crown prince appeared to send Mr. Bezos messages that suggested he had knowledge of the tech mogul’s private communications.

On Nov. 8, 2018, the report said, Mr. Bezos received a message from the account that included a single photo of a woman who strongly resembled Lauren Sanchez, with whom Mr. Bezos was having an affair that had not been made public. The photo was captioned, “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”

At the time, Mr. Bezos and his wife were discussing a divorce, which would have been apparent to someone reading his text messages.

The second occasion, on Feb. 16 of last year, came two days after Mr. Bezos took part in phone conversations about the Saudis’ alleged online campaign against him. The message he received read, in part, that “there is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”

The report concluded that advanced mobile spyware could have been used to compromise Mr. Bezos’ phone.

Two United Nations experts plan to release a public statement Wednesday morning “addressing serious allegations” that Mr. Bezos was hacked by receiving a WhatsApp message “reportedly from an account belonging to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” one of the experts, Agnes Callamard, said in an email.

Ms. Callamard, a specialist in extrajudicial killings, has been investigating Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, and David Kaye, an expert in human rights law, has been gathering information about violations of freedom of the press.

In its statement, the United Nations plans to say that it is raising concerns over the hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone directly with the Saudi government, said a person familiar with the statement. The United Nations did not conduct its own investigation into the hack and is basing its statement on the FTI report, the person said.

The United Nations began looking into the situation in June 2019 when someone close to Mr. Bezos shared the forensic analysis with them, the person added.

Amazon and Mr. de Becker declined to comment. William Isaacson, Mr. Bezos’ lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner, declined to comment beyond saying that Mr. Bezos was cooperating with continuing investigations.

The questions about who has had access to Mr. Bezos’ phone erupted a year ago, after The National Enquirer reported that the tech executive was romantically involved with Ms. Sanchez, a former TV anchor. At the time, The Enquirer published photos of the couple together, as well as intimate text messages.

Mr. Bezos later published emails from American Media, the parent company of The National Enquirer, which he said amounted to “extortion and blackmail.” He suggested that the leaks of photos and details of his private life could have been politically motivated to harm him because of his ownership of The Post.

In March, Mr. de Becker accused the Saudi government of hacking Mr. Bezos’s phone. In an opinion article in The Daily Beast, Mr. de Becker wrote that his “investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence” that the Saudis got private information from Mr. Bezos’ phone and that he turned the evidence they had uncovered over to law enforcement authorities.

Mr. de Becker did not detail specific evidence they uncovered, nor did he detail whether the leaked information was published by The Enquirer. American Media denied any Saudi involvement, saying Ms. Sanchez’s brother was the tabloid’s sole source.

Karen Weise reported from Seattle, Matthew Rosenberg from Washington and Sheera Frenkel from San Francisco. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Analysis Said to Tie Hacking of Bezos’ Phone to Saudi Leader’s Account

Westlake Legal Group 21bezoshack-facebookJumbo Analysis Said to Tie Hacking of Bezos’ Phone to Saudi Leader’s Account Text Messaging national enquirer Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Khashoggi, Jamal Instant Messaging FTI Consulting Inc Cyberwarfare and Defense Classified Information and State Secrets Bezos, Jeffrey P Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations American Media Inc Amazon.com Inc

SEATTLE — A forensic analysis of Jeff Bezos’ cellphone found with “medium to high confidence” that the Amazon chief’s device was hacked after he received a video from a WhatsApp account reportedly belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, according to a person familiar with the Bezos-ordered investigation.

After Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, got the video over the WhatsApp messaging platform in 2018, his phone began sending unusually large volumes of data, said the person, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The person said the investigators believed Prince Mohammed was used as a conduit because the message would not raise suspicions if it came from him.

The findings of the forensics investigation, completed on behalf of Mr. Bezos by Anthony Ferrante at the business advisory firm FTI Consulting, could not be independently verified by The New York Times.

After the findings were reported by The Guardian and The Financial Times, the Saudi Embassy denied that the Saudi government was involved.

“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the Saudi Embassy said on Twitter. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”

Mr. Bezos’ security consultant, Gavin de Becker, had previously accused the Saudi government of hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone, saying Saudi authorities targeted Mr. Bezos because he owned The Washington Post. The Post has aggressively reported on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, one of its columnists, who was a critic of the Saudi government. The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

Two United Nations experts plan to release a public statement Wednesday morning “addressing serious allegations” that Mr. Bezos was hacked by receiving a WhatsApp message “reportedly from an account belonging to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” one of the experts, Agnes Callamard, said in an email.

Ms. Callamard, a specialist in extrajudicial killings, has been investigating Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, and David Kaye, an expert in human rights law, has been gathering information about violations of freedom of the press.

Amazon and Mr. de Becker declined to comment. William Isaacson, Mr. Bezos’ lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner, declined to comment beyond saying that Mr. Bezos was cooperating with continuing investigations. Mr. Ferrante declined to comment through a FTI spokesman.

“All FTI Consulting client work is confidential,” Matt Bashalany, a spokesman for FTI, said in a statement. “We do not comment on, confirm or deny client engagements or potential engagements.”

The questions about who has had access to Mr. Bezos’ phone erupted a year ago, after The National Enquirer reported that the tech executive was romantically involved with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor. At the time, The Enquirer published photos of the couple together, as well as intimate text messages.

Mr. Bezos later published emails from American Media, the parent company of The National Enquirer, which he said amounted to “extortion and blackmail.” He suggested that the leaks of photos and details of his private life could have been politically motivated to harm him because of his ownership of The Post.

In March, Mr. de Becker accused the Saudi government of hacking Mr. Bezos’s phone. In an opinion article in The Daily Beast, Mr. de Becker wrote that his “investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence” that the Saudis got private information from Mr. Bezos’ phone and that he turned the evidence they had uncovered over to law enforcement authorities.

Mr. de Becker did not detail specific evidence they uncovered, nor did he detail whether the leaked information was published by The Enquirer. American Media denied any Saudi involvement, saying Ms. Sanchez’s brother was the tabloid’s sole source.

Karen Weise reported from Seattle, and Matthew Rosenberg from Washington. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks

Westlake Legal Group merlin_157182693_29b2b765-9c5c-432a-a86b-6fd00f533d27-facebookJumbo With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks Yemen United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United States United Arab Emirates Trump, Donald J Thani, Tamim bin Hamad al- Saudi Arabia Salman, King of Saudi Arabia qatar Persian Gulf Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Middle East Khaled bin Salman, Prince of Saudi Arabia Iran Houthis Hadi, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Griffiths, Martin Embargoes and Sanctions Doha (Qatar) Defense and Military Forces Carter, Jimmy Boycotts Al-Jazeera

CAIRO — In the months since a missile and drone attack widely seen as the work of Iran left two Saudi oil facilities smoldering, the Saudi crown prince has taken an uncharacteristic turn to diplomacy to cool tensions with his regional enemies.

The prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has stepped up direct talks with the rebels he has been fighting in Yemen for over four years, leading to a decline in attacks by both sides.

He has made gestures to ease, if not end, the stifling blockade he and his allies imposed his tiny, wealthy neighbor, Qatar.

He has even engaged in indirect talks with the kingdom’s archnemesis, Iran, to try to dampen the shadow war raging across the region.

Fueling the shift from confrontation to negotiation, analysts say, is the sobering realization that a decades-old cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East — the understanding that the United States would defend the Saudi oil industry from foreign attacks — can no longer be taken for granted.

Even though American and Saudi officials agreed that Iran was behind the Sept. 14 attacks on the petroleum processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily halving Saudi Arabia’s oil production, President Trump responded with heated rhetoric but little else.

For the Saudis, the tepid response drove home the reality that despite the tens of billions of dollars they have spent on American weapons — more than $170 billion since 1973 — they could no longer count on the United States to come to their aid, at least not with the force they expected.

Worried about having to fend for themselves in a tough and unpredictable neighborhood, analysts say, the Saudis have quietly reached out to their enemies to de-escalate conflicts.

“I think we will look at Sept. 14 as a seminal moment in gulf history,” said David B. Roberts, a scholar of the region at King’s College London. With the presumption shattered that the United States would protect the Saudis, Dr. Roberts said, “they realize the need to be more accommodating.”

For the United States, the shift toward diplomacy is an awkward paradox. The Trump administration and Congress have been pressing the Saudis to end the war in Yemen, and the administration has pushed them to reconcile with Qatar, largely in vain.

Now, the presumed Iranian strikes may have done more to advance those goals than American pressure ever did.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy turned more aggressive after Prince Mohammed, then 29, emerged as its driving force in 2015. He plunged the kingdom into a devastating war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen; imposed a punishing boycott on Qatar, which he accused of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran; and vowed to confront Iran across the Middle East.

Critics said the young prince was brash and headstrong, and a destabilizing force in the region. Moreover, the Yemen and Qatar campaigns failed to achieve the desired results.

The war in Yemen settled into a costly stalemate with the side effect of a devastating humanitarian crisis, while Qatar employed its vast wealth and other international relationships to weather the blockade. Then the refinery attacks highlighted the vulnerability of the Saudi oil industry, the country’s economic jewel.

Those events led to what Rob Malley, a top official for the Middle East in the Obama administration, describes as a “semi-recalibration” of Saudi policies. The sudden willingness to pursue diplomacy in Qatar and Yemen, he said, “reflects a Saudi desire to solidify its regional posture at a time of uncertainty and vulnerability.”

Analysts saw the lack of a significant American response to the attacks as a blow to the policy known as the Carter doctrine, which dates to 1980, when President Jimmy Carter vowed to use force to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf after the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Subsequent presidents, Democrats and Republicans, upheld it, seeing Saudi oil exports as essential to the global economy and America’s interests.

“For as long as I have been working on the Middle East, that’s why we were there: to protect the free flow of oil,” said Steven Cook, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to a period dating to the 1980s.

After the attacks, Mr. Trump sent more American troops to Saudi Arabia to operate Patriot missile systems, support that fell far short of what the Saudis had expected from a president whom they considered a close friend and who shared their animosity toward Iran. Mr. Trump ordered, then abruptly called off, airstrikes on Iran.

“What the Saudis didn’t understand,” Dr. Cook said, “was that Donald Trump is a lot closer to Barack Obama’s worldview than they realized. It’s about getting out of the Middle East.”

The Saudis’ reputation in Washington had suffered gravely because of the war in Yemen, the Qatar blockade and the killing of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul last year.

While anger spread in Congress and other parts of the government, Mr. Trump continued to support the kingdom as an important Arab ally and a reliable buyer of American arms. But as a presidential election looms, the Saudis realize that Mr. Trump could find that position to be a liability with voters, and a new president could take an entirely different approach.

“It is a hard ask, even for Trump, to defend Saudi Arabia at every turn during a campaign,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “So I think the Saudis are smart enough to tone it down for a time.”

Daylight also broke between Saudi Arabia and its closest regional ally, the United Arab Emirates. In June, the Emirates began withdrawing its troops from Yemen, leaving the Saudis with the burden of an ugly war that few believe they can win. In July, the Emirates hosted rare talks with Iran about maritime security, an effort to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf and safeguard the country’s reputation as a safe business hub.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment on the recent diplomacy.

While those overtures have yet to yield official agreements, they have eased pressures in the region.

In Yemen, both sides have released more than 100 prisoners to show good will, and cross-border attacks by the Houthis have grown less frequent. Last month the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, reported an 80 percent reduction in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition over the previous two weeks.

Since then, no Yemeni civilians have been killed in airstrikes, said Radhya Almutawakel, the chairwoman of Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights group.

The current de-escalation, she noted, is the first that resulted from direct talks with the Houthis. She suspected that the Saudis would not have chosen that route if the war had been going their way at the time of the Abqaiq attack.

“They would not have chosen to speak with the Houthis,” she said. “They would have escalated the war.”

In the standoff between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar, demonstrable progress has been scarce but quiet talks between the countries’ leaders have softened the conflict’s rougher edges.

Saudi social media accounts that often insulted Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, have toned it down. And while Qatar has not shut down its Al Jazeera satellite network as the Saudis demanded, criticism of Qatar from pro-government news outlets and social media accounts in Saudi Arabia has noticeably quieted in recent months, Qatari officials say.

Instead of punishing citizens who travel to Qatar, Saudi Arabia now looks the other way, and has even sent soccer teams to play in tournaments in Doha, the Qatari capital. And although Qatar’s emir did not accept an invitation by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, to attend a regional summit meeting in Saudi Arabia this month, Qatar’s foreign minister did.

The Qataris have also gained ground in Washington. While Mr. Trump initially cheered the blockade, endorsing the Saudi allegation that Qatar supported terrorism, he later switched tracks. Last year, he welcomed Qatar’s emir in Washington and this month sent his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, to a major conference in Doha.

But the antagonism toward Qatar has not softened in the Emirates, which has been a leader of the embargo and which still sees Qatar as dangerously close to the region’s Islamists. The distrust is reciprocated by Qatar, where officials have spoken of possibly reconciling with Saudi Arabia but not the Emirates, effectively splitting their alliance.

Concrete progress has been scarcest where the stakes are highest: between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But after years of heated statements and competing support for opposite sides in regional conflicts, officials from Pakistan and Iraq have stepped in as intermediaries for back-channel talks aimed at averting a wider conflict.

It remains unclear how far such talks will go in reducing tensions, especially since an official Saudi opening with Iran could infuriate Mr. Trump, who has tried to isolate and punish Iran.

“Washington would not look kindly upon a Saudi-Iranian channel at a time when the U.S. is trying to isolate Iran,” said Mr. Malley, the Obama administration official. “Not to fully trust the Trump administration is one thing. To openly defy it is another altogether, and Prince Mohammed is unlikely to do that.”

Saeed al-Batati and Shuaib Almosawa contributed reporting from Yemen.

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