Saudi Arabia yesterday appointed its first female ambassador to serve as its top diplomat in the US, pulling a son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman back to the kingdom to serve as deputy minister of defense amid deteriorating ties with Washington after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, a daughter of the kingdom’s longtime ambassador to Washington Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, faces a stark challenge in improving ties between the US and Saudi Arabia.
She replaces Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, a son of King Salman and a former fighter pilot who insisted after Khashoggi’s disappearance on Oct. 2 that the Washington Post columnist simply left the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Instead, members of the entourage of his brother, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, allegedly assassinated and dismembered Khashoggi inside the diplomatic post.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources in November, also reported that US intelligence agencies reviewed a telephone call that Prince Khalid had with Khashoggi, in which he allegedly told the writer he would be safe going to the consulate to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed, although he made the call at the direction of the crown prince. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington has denied the call took place.
Princess Reema, who studied in the US and is known in the kingdom for her philanthropic work, lived in the US during her father’s more than 20 years as the Saudi ambassador there. Her father also served as the head of the country’s intelligence service.
“I will work with God’s permission to serve my country, its leaders and all its children and I will spare no effort to that end,” Princess Reema wrote on Twitter after her appointment.
Her posting comes as Saudi Arabia under King Salman and Prince Mohammad allowed women to drive last year. However, the kingdom meanwhile has arrested women’s rights adovocates as part of a wider crackdown on any perceived dissent in the OPEC-member nation.
Prince Khalid returns to Riyadh as a deputy defense minister. Prince Mohammad has held the position of defense minister even after becoming the next in line to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom.
In a tweet, Prince Khalid said his posting would allow him to again “be the sword” of the defense minister.
“I ask God to help me achieve the vision of our leadership and serve the men I know who are faithful to their religion and homeland,” he wrote.
Prince Khalid’s naming as deputy defense minister comes as Saudi Arabia remains mired in its years-long war in Yemen, which has also strained US relations to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has faced growing Western criticism over its airstrikes hitting markets and clinics, killing civilians. US lawmakers are pushing to withdraw support for the conflict, which pits the kingdom and its allies against the Houthi rebels, who hold the capital of the Arab world’s poorest nation.
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