Saudi Arabia names first female ambassador

Princess Rima bint Bandar to serve as Saudi ambassador to the United States amid tensions over Khashoggi murder.

Elad Benari ,

Princess Rima bint Bandar
Princess Rima bint Bandar

Saudi Arabia on Saturday named a woman as ambassador for the first time, with Princess Rima bint Bandar to serve as the kingdom’s envoy to the United States, AFP reported.

Princess Rima replaces Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of the powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed vice defense minister.

Princess Rima, the daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the United States, has been a leading advocate of female empowerment in the kingdom, which has long faced criticism over its treatment of women.

Last year she said Saudi Arabia would be working to address deeper issues on the path to women's rights after allowing them to drive and attend soccer matches.

As part of a wide-ranging social and economic reform initiative in the face of fallen oil revenue, King Salman announced last year that Saudi women would be allowed to drive.

The kingdom, the world's only country where women are not allowed behind the wheel, later announced another reform, allowing women into stadiums to watch soccer matches for the first time.

The reforms are an initiative of the Crown Prince who has been leading a major drive to modernize Saudi society and boost the economy and who has pledged the country would return to a "moderate and open" approach.

Princess Rima’s appointment as ambassador to the US comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to quell an international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

Saudi Arabia has admitted that Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after previously denying Turkish claims that he was murdered. At the same time, the Saudi leadership claimed Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” operation and denies any connection to the murder.

Princess Rima faces hostile US lawmakers who have threatened to take tough action against Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing amid claims that the Crown Prince was personally responsible.

The murder has resulted in tensions between lawmakers and the White House. President Donald Trump has reaffirmed his support for Saudi Arabia, despite the murder of Khashoggi, insisting the US-Saudi Arabian alliance is beneficial not only for American interests, but also for those of Israel.

Lawmakers from both parties, meanwhile, have called for a strong US response to Khashoggi's murder.