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Saudi princess is appointed new envoy to Washington

Daughter of former long-time ambassador to United States becomes first woman to hold post
Princess Reema had career in private sector before joining kingdom's General Sports Authority (AFP/file photo)

Saudi Arabia replaced its ambassador to Washington, a royal decree announced on Saturday, as the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, the conflict in Yemen and women's rights tests relations between the two allies.

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was appointed the new envoy, replacing Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was appointed vice defence minister, AFP reported.

Princess Reema, daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the United States, is the first woman to hold the post, Reuters said.

She is familiar with US politics and society, having lived in Washington when her father Prince Bandar was ambassador (1983-2005), and studied at US universities, the National website reported.

The new ambassador visited Washington last year and spoke extensively at research institutes and think-tanks about the need to integrate Saudi women fully into the workforce, the National added. She is diplomatic, fluent in English and Arabic, knows the US political scene and is expected to take up the position soon.

The princess comes from an entrepreneurial background, and has chaired and co-founded a series of initiatives since she returned to Saudi Arabia in 2005, the National reported.

Princess Reema co-founded Yibreen, a women's day gym and spa, and was formerly executive at Alfa International and Harvey Nichols in Riyadh.

She currently serves as president of the mass participation federation and deputy of development and planning for the Saudi sports authority.

Prince Khalid is the younger full brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also defence minister.

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The reshuffle comes as ties with Washington are under strain following Khashoggi's murder last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After initially denying they knew anything of Khashoggi's disappearance, the Saudis finally acknowledged that a team killed him inside the consulate, but described it as a rogue operation.

MEE reported that it took seven minutes for Jamal Khashoggi to die, citing a Turkish source who listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist's last moments.

US lawmakers have threatened to take tougher action against Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing amid claims that the crown prince was personally responsible. 

The Saudi government has strongly denied he had anything to do with the murder of Khashoggi, who was a columnist with the Washington Post.

The killing refocused attention on a Saudi-led military coalition's bombing campaign in Yemen, which is gripped by what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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Earlier this month, the US House voted overwhelmingly to end American involvement in Saudi Arabia's war effort in neighbouring Yemen, dealing a rebuke to President Donald Trump who has publicly thrown his support behind the crown prince.

Also, as Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women drivers last June, the move was overshadowed by the continued incarceration of a number of activists who first championed the right of women to drive, and who represented leading voices in women’s rights activism in the country.

Earlier this month, a panel of British MPs and lawyers investigating the detention of women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia has concluded that their treatment may constitute torture under Saudi and international law.

The Detention Review Panel said that the eight activists had been treated in a way that was "cruel, inhumane and degrading" and that "Saudi authorities at the highest levels could be responsible for the crime of torture". It said the activists had been subjected to sleep deprivation, assault, threats to life and solitary confinement.

The appointment of the new envoy "signifies an attempt by Riyadh to try and re-set relations with Washington and draw a line under the Khashoggi affair, however unlikely that may be in practice, at least with Congress", Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute in the United States, told AFP.