Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recently concluded visit to Pakistan, India and China has inevitably generated a great deal of analysis — not all of it useful. To suggest that this three-state Asian tour meant Riyadh was turning its back on its long-standing Western allies, namely the US and Europe, is both false and idiotic.
Yes, relations have been shaken by the Yemen war and the awful murder last year of Jamal Khashoggi. However, as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said during the IISS Manama Dialogue, the relationship with the US remains “ironclad.”
There are two illustrations of this. The first is the high-level participation of Saudi Arabia in the first Arab-European summit now taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh; for King Salman to lead the delegation in person is a major indicator of the significance of the relationship with the Euro bloc. The second illustration is the appointment as Saudi ambassador to Washington of Princess Reema bint Bandar, replacing her cousin Prince Khaled bin Salman, who has been appointed Deputy Defense Minister.
Prince Khaled is a former fighter pilot and brother of the crown prince, who is also Defense Minister. With his extensive US military contacts, he has always been the ideal candidate to help run the ministry. That his successor in the Saudi embassy is another high-profile royal is a reaffirmation that Riyadh remains focused on enhancing its relations with Washington.
“To suggest that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's three-state Asian tour meant Riyadh was turning its back on its long-standing Western allies, namely the US and Europe, is both false and idiotic.”
Faisal J. Abbas
Of course, Princess Reema is no stranger to the US capital; she is the daughter of the former long-serving ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, such a diplomatic legend that he earned the nickname “Bandar Bush.”
While her father can be expected to supply advice, Princess Reema is perfectly capable on her own of taking relations with the US to the next level. She grew up, studied and graduated there. Her personal contact book includes everyone from members of Congress to America’s top business owners and executives, as well as Hollywood A-listers.
In Saudi Arabia, she defied government bureaucracy and previous restrictions on women, and expanded female empowerment in the fields of sport, business and civil society. She served as an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed, who has placed tremendous trust in her over the past few years. The princess is an exceptional hostess and an excellent public speaker, and has represented the Kingdom well at international events and in television interviews, even in the most trying of circumstances.
The challenge facing her will not be easy, but challenges run in the family. It was Prince Bandar who restored US-Saudi relations after the events of September 11, 2001. Now it is up to Princess Reema to navigate the bumpy road created by Yemen, the Khashoggi affair and tense internal divisions in Washington itself. There can surely be no more able driver.