Saudi envoy to U.S. resigns

Ambassador to the U.K. to succeed Prince Bandar

move rumored for weeks

July 21, 2005|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States has been a power player here for 22 years, has resigned his post for "personal reasons," the Saudi government announced yesterday.

The flamboyant former fighter pilot will be succeeded by Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and the current ambassador to the United Kingdom, the government said.

Prince Bandar's resignation, which has been rumored for weeks, comes at a time when broader changes are soon expected in the government of the world's largest oil-producing nation. King Fahd's long illness is apparently growing more serious, and when he dies, Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler for the past decade, is expected to organize a new government.

There has been speculation that Prince Bandar, 56, the son of Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, hopes to become minister of intelligence in the reshuffle. Prince Bandar is reported to have tired of his ambassadorial post and is believed to have spent little time in Washington in recent months. There have also been reports that he is ailing.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington noted Prince Bandar's "exceptional gifts" but did not return calls seeking an elaboration on the reason for his departure.

In a statement yesterday, the White House noted Bandar's "charm, wit and humor" and called him a "tireless advocate for close ties, warm relations, and mutual understanding between the United States and Saudi Arabia over 20 years."

Prince Bandar is leaving at a time when there are significant issues between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The foremost may be the joint effort against radical Islam, said Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Another is the war in Iraq, which the Saudi government considers a threat to its security. There is tension between the U.S. and Saudi governments over the regular flow of jihadists from the kingdom to Iraq, Bronson said.

In addition, she said, the U.S. government has been encouraging the Saudis to make democratic reforms - overtures that have not always been welcomed by the conservative kingdom.

Prince Bandar has been close to the Bush family for years, especially to the first President George Bush, with whom he worked closely on the Persian Gulf War. Saudi Arabia was a significant strategic base for U.S. troops before, during and after that conflict.

In Washington, Prince Bandar was known as a bon vivant who enjoyed entertaining an audience and was not shy about showing off his wealth. Immaculately groomed, with glistening manicured nails, he loved cigars and American products, such as blue jeans and McDonald's hamburgers.

But in recent years, Prince Bandar has been less visible in Washington.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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