What U.S.-Saudi Tensions? Elite Bankers and Financiers Jet off to 'Davos in the Desert'

Although official US-Saudia Arabia relations remain tense over oil output, America’s leading bankers, financiers, and businesspeople aren’t concerned, as many of them jet off to the first Future Investment Initiative gathering in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia which starts Tuesday.  After all, there’s money—lots and lots of money—to be discussed.


The business conference has been dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” a reference to the annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The Biden Administration has been chiding those choosing to attend, according to the New York Times:

The Biden administration’s message to corporate America was clear: Consider the reputation of the countries you do business with.

The remark came from the White House press secretary at a briefing last week, just as some top American executives were preparing to attend a major Saudi business conference, along with thousands of other investors, businesspeople and politicians.

But the message seems to be falling on deaf ears:

No American administration officials are attending as Biden sulks. The personal relationship between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the president has soured, with the prince reportedly openly mocking Biden behind his back and refusing to bend to his demands to increase oil production.

Interestingly, in all the stories I read about the event, not a single one mentioned “climate change,” even though the attendees are a veritable Who’s Who of carbon obsessive companies and government officials from other countries. I’m guessing the subject wasn’t high on the list of Saudi priorities, considering they’ve built their kingdom from the crude beneath their sands. Hypocrisy comes easy to this bunch. Here’s a look at the actual Davos, Switzerland gathering last May:


Being in the kingdom that fossil fuels built doesn’t seem to bother any of these luminaries if there are a lot of deals to consummate. Here’s a (very) partial list of the attendees:

The chief executives of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo all plan to be there, as do influential investors like the Blackstone Group chief Stephen A. Schwarzman and the Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio. Jared Kushner and Steven Mnuchin, former Trump administration officials who received significant commitments from the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund to finance their investment firms, are also expected to go.

So are senior government officials from Singapore, Russia and Nigeria.

Most of the mainstream media coverage has been glowing, despite the kingdom’s history of human rights abuses. Many stories centered around Saudi Arabia’s growing clout and attempts to modernize, citing this conference as a sort of coming-out party. From NBC:

The world’s biggest oil producer and the Middle East’s largest economy is putting on the event at a critical time — as it seeks to transform its economy, government and, by some measures, society.


The New York Times meanwhile:

The interest in this year’s conference only underscores how Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion sovereign wealth fund and increasingly open markets have become powerful sources of global influence. Tycoons and investors are happy to mingle with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi leader, in light of the enormous opportunities he can offer. Many of them have ignored his escalating crackdown on domestic dissent or say their focus is on his efforts to open up the country’s economy and loosen social restrictions.

Sadly, I wasn’t invited, so I won’t have any inside information for you. But I can guess that there will be gluttonous feasts, lavish parties—and backroom deals that will affect us all. It promises to be an interesting affair, whether Joe Biden likes it or not.


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