US: Changes in Saudi Arabia Won’t Dampen Relations

May 1, 2015  

Following a reshuffle in Saudi Arabia’s power elite, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday: “We will continue to maintain our close, productive relationship as we work together to address a number of serious challenges.”

“Our strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia is longstanding under multiple administrations, many different kings, and this will certainly continue. We’re confident that we will continue to enjoy a close and productive relationship with Saudi leaders,” she added.

Saudis pledged their allegiance on Wednesday to new Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Both were both appointed by decree of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, announced Tuesday. The move has been interpreted as a bid to strengthen the Saudis’ aggressive posture vis-a-vis Iran. 

Bin Naif – who served as Interior Minister until the reshuffle – replaced Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, who was relieved of his post “upon his request,” according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Current Defense Minister Bin Salman was named as the new Deputy Crown Prince in place of Prince Mohammed Bin Naif.

King Faisal also replaced a number of ministers, including the world’s longest serving foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal.

Harf said numerous US officials have already worked closely with Crown Prince Bin Naif, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan.

“The alliance, as we all know, between Saudi Arabia and the US is historic and enduring, and we will continue to maintain our close, productive relationship as we work together to address a number of serious challenges,” Harf said.

A bit brash’

Bin Naif is known in Saudi Arabia as the “Scourge of Terrorists,” following his policies against terror groups such as Al-Qaeda, as Interior Minister. Bin Naif, 55, “has long been a favorite of US officials,” who have worked with him on the terrorists, according to Politico.

Mohammed bin Salman, often dubbed MbS, is believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s. He’s considered a key architect of Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

“I think there is concern that MbS is a bit brash given the Yemen campaign,” a former Obama administration official told Politico. U.S. officials have said little in public about MbS, though Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described him as “extremely knowledgeable, focused and engaged.”

As for Saud al-Faisal, Harf said that Secretary of State John Kerry and “the rest of our team honor the service of the longest-serving foreign minister of any country, certainly a friend of the secretary.” The United States would remember Saud, who was stepping down for health reasons, “as a skilled diplomat, wise counselor on regional issues, and a good friend to the United States,” she added, commenting that the United States looked forward to working closely with his successor, Saudi Arabia’s longtime envoy to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who met with Kerry on Wednesday at the State Department.

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