Saudi Prince Bandar Resigns as Ambassador to U.S.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 1:08 p.m. EDT

Saudi Prince Bandar Resigns as Ambassador to U.S.

Saudi Arabia's bon vivant ambassador to the United States announced Wednesday he was stepping down, ending more than two decades of unusual Oval Office access - including huddling with presidents at moments of crisis and even once looking over battle plans.

Dean of the diplomatic corps in Washington, the 56-year-old Prince Bandar bin Sultan showed time and time again that he was more than an ordinary ambassador.

"In troubled times, U.S. presidents past and present have relied upon Ambassador Bandar's advice," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in Washington. "In good times, they have enjoyed his wit, charm, and humor. Throughout his tenure, Ambassador Bandar has remained a close, steadfast friend to the United States."

A close friend of the first President Bush, Bandar was at the White House during the 1991 Gulf War, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ahead of the invasion, Bandar was even called in by the current President Bush to view the attack plans.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said Bandar - who had held the post for 22 years but had been out of Washington for most of the past year - was stepping down for "personal reasons."

He will be replaced by Prince Turki bin al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and current ambassador to Britain.

"I thank God the Almighty who guided me to serve my religion, my dear king and my generous people over 39 years in the brave Saudi Armed Forces and the diplomatic corps," Bandar, a former air force pilot, said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

He congratulated Prince Turki, saying he is "the right man, in the right place at the right time."

Bandar's resignation coincides with looming changes in Saudi Arabia's ruling hierarchy. King Fahd is seriously ill. Crown Prince Abdullah, who has been de facto ruler during Fahd's long illness and will become king after Fahd's death, is expected to name Prince Sultan - Bandar's father - as the next crown prince.

Sultan is already 76, and how long he might serve is not certain. There are concerns about an eventual fight for the throne among the next generation - the hundreds of grandsons of Saudi founder Abdul Aziz, including Bandar.

Bandar has been rumored to be in line for a top security post in Riyadh.

"What we are seeing is a generational change or the realignment of the family," said Edward S. Walker, president of the Middle East Institute, who has served as American ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel and was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 1999-2001.

During his years as top diplomat in Washington, the goateed Bandar was known for his high living and charisma. At diplomatic dinners and parties, he regaled fellow guests with vivid stories.

More crucial was his position as the link between the leaderships of the United States and Saudi Arabia in their sometimes rocky relationship. Experts often said U.S.-Saudi relations were made not at the embassy or the State Department, as with other countries, but in direct meetings at the White House.

Three days after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bandar was at the White House, consulting with Bush - even stepping out onto the porch with the president so the ambassador could have a cigar.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bandar toured the United States, holding uncharacteristic face-to-face meetings with Americans in an effort to dispel criticisms that the kingdom - home to 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers - may have been soft on terrorism.

Bandar himself became a focus when his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, was criticized for providing money indirectly to a Saudi man wanted for questioning by U.S. officials about links to two Sept. 11 hijackers, according to a congressional report.

Bandar's influence in Washington seemed to wane somewhat in recent years, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. Crown Prince Abdullah had his own foreign policy adviser in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, who seemed to speak more directly for the crown prince and has increasingly become the public face of the kingdom in Washington.

Saudi Prince Bandar Resigns as Ambassador to U.S.


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