Biden appointed career diplomat Michael Ratney as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
The former US official said the Saudis usually expect a political appointee with military connections and might be offended by the choice.
Relations between the US and Saudi Arabia are currently at a new low.
The selection of President Joe Biden as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia would likely be seen as a disappointment or even an insult to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a former U.S. official told Insider.
Biden last Friday appointed Michael Ratney to the post following the departure of General John Abizaid, the former head of US Central Command, from Riyadh last year.
The nomination comes at the height of U.S.-Saudi relations as Biden is clearly distancing himself from the country and Crown Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, is reportedly trying to punish him back.
David Schenker, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs at the State Department from 2019 to January 2021, told Insider of Ratney: “He’s a very capable diplomat, he’s held important positions, he’s done well and is highly respected.”
“But we’ve seen a lot of stress in the US-Saudi relationship, and that’s not going to help.”
Historically, most U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, like Abizaid, have been political appointees with deep military connections.
Other recent former ambassadors include Joseph Westphal, a former undersecretary of the US Army, and James Smith, a former chief of weapons manufacturer Raytheon.
But Ratney, a widely respected, Arabic-speaking diplomat, was the first Foreign Service officer in line for the post since Charles Freeman in 1989.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia may be offended by the appointment of Ratni, Schenker said. The main principle of relations between the two countries was the US guarantee of Saudi Arabia’s security: the US maintains a large military base in Riyadh and annually sells millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Saudis. Ratney’s choice may indicate to Riyadh that Biden is not as concerned about the security of Saudi Arabia as his predecessors.
Schenker also said that the post of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US is often held by leading figures such as Khalid bin Salman, MBS’s brother, and Princess Reema bint Bandar, MBS’s cousin and current ambassador. According to Schenker, Riyadh expects the same profile in return.
“The Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington is a princess. They will see this as a deterioration in relations,” he said. “They’ll understand it in that context.”
Ratney’s nomination comes at a busy time for the Saudi-US partnership.
The Biden administration has publicly chided MBS for widespread human rights abuses and expressed dissatisfaction with US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
In turn, MBS reportedly ignored Biden phone calls and U.S. requests to increase oil productionand said he does not care what Biden thinks of him.
Saudis also annoyed by the weak US response to the attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. in the Arabian Peninsula as Saudi Arabia expects the US to guarantee its security.
However, after the announcement, political pundits praised Ratney’s appointment and his ability.
“If anyone can sort out the mess of US-Saudi relations, it’s Ratney. He will at least give an honest assessment of how (or how) the interests and values of the United States and Saudi Arabia coincide. What Biden does is another matter.” tweeted Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Ratney is currently dean of the language program at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Levant and Israel and Palestine at the State Department.
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