RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s new ambassadors to the United States and the United Kingdom have taken up their posts after several months’ vacancy amid tensions with Western allies over the Yemen war and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Gulf kingdom’s first female ambassador, presented her credentials in Washington while her brother, Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan, did so in London, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.
They arrive at a fraught period in both bilateral relationships, with heightened criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record and calls to freeze arms sales amid a four-year-old war in Yemen where the Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Princess Reema was named in February to replace Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was heavily criticised for denying that Khashoggi had been killed last October inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul before the authorities ultimately acknowledged the murder of the Washington Post columnist.
The former ambassador, a brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is now deputy defence minister in Riyadh. The CIA and some Western countries believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder, which Saudi officials deny.
The new ambassadors, both in their 40s, are the children of a former long-time envoy to the United States. Princess Reema lived in Washington with him for many years and studied at George Washington University.
She has no previous diplomatic experience, having worked in the private sector before joining the kingdom’s General Sports Authority where she championed women’s participation in sports and focused on increasing women’s empowerment.
She becomes ambassador as deeply conservative Saudi Arabia is opening up and granting women more freedom, though also cracking down on dissent including the detention of around a dozen women activists, most of whom had campaigned for the right to drive, which was granted last year. Some campaigners say they have been subjected to torture.
Her brother Prince Khalid was previously ambassador to Germany, whose relationship with Riyadh has been strained in recent years by a moratorium on German arms exports and criticism of the kingdom’s “adventurism” in the Middle East.
Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Janet Lawrence