May 2, 2019 / 8:28 PM / 4 months ago

New U.S. ambassador to Saudi arrives in Riyadh after two year gap

RIYADH (Reuters) - The new U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, retired general John Abizaid, arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, an embassy statement said, filling a position vacant since President Donald Trump took office more than two years ago.

Washington has not had an ambassador in Riyadh since January 2017, a 27-month period in which U.S.-Saudi ties have become increasingly complicated over issues including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Trump nominated Abizaid, who led U.S. Central Command during the Iraq war, for the position in November 2018. He was approved by the Senate in April.

“Saudi Arabia and the United States work together every day to protect the security of our two countries, promote prosperity and economic development, and build the people-to-people ties that keep our relationship strong,” the statement quoted Abizaid, 68, as saying.

Many in Washington have called for a tougher stance against the Saudis on matters such as the imprisonment and alleged torture of women’s rights activists and other dissidents, and the killings of civilians by aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen War.

But Trump has expressed reluctance to push too hard on Riyadh. He cites its multibillion-dollar purchases of U.S. military equipment and investments in U.S. firms, as well as its role as an important regional counterbalance to Iran, arch-rival of U.S. ally Israel.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Alison Williams

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