New Saudi FM is well-spoken Washington insider

30 Apr 2015 / 00:03 H.

    RIYADH: From the 9/11 attacks to this year's air strikes in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's new top diplomat is a longtime Washington insider known as a well-spoken advocate for the kingdom's foreign policy.
    A frequent face on US television, Adel al-Jubeir, 53, was named on Wednesday to replace the ageing Prince Saud al-Faisal, who held the post since 1975 and was the world's longest-serving foreign minister.
    The move was part of a major shake-up by King Salman and came after the country adopted a more assertive foreign policy since he took the throne following the death of King Abdullah this year.
    Jubeir — a rare member of the Saudi ruling elite not from the royal family — has been Riyadh's ambassador to key ally Washington for eight years and previously served as the embassy's spokesman.
    Once dubbed the "Saudi spin doctor" by Time magazine, Jubeir has most recently been seen briefing reporters on the Saudi-led air war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen and was the first to announce the launch of the coalition campaign.
    A Western diplomatic source told AFP that he didn't expect to see a major shift in the kingdom's approach to diplomacy under Jubeir.
    "Nothing much will change. The foreign policy will stay on track," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Jubeir first rose to prominence defending Saudi Arabia after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
    Insisting Saudi Arabia was not a breeding ground for extremists, Jubeir said his was country was being "unfairly maligned" in the US press.
    Alleged assassination plot
    He has also become known in the United States as the target of an alleged Tehran-sponsored assassination plot involving an Iranian-American used car salesman trying to contract Mexican gangsters.
    The Iranian-American, Mansour Arbabsiar, was charged in 2011 with organising the plot but pleaded not guilty, while Tehran has ridiculed suggestions of its involvement.
    Jubeir's first major assignment is likely to come Thursday when Gulf foreign ministers meet in the Saudi capital to discuss the campaign in Yemen ahead of a summit of their heads of state next week.
    He will also have to tackle rising tensions between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and its Shiite regional rival Iran, which has been accused of arming rebel forces in Yemen. Tehran denies such charges.
    The framework deal between world powers and Iran over its controversial nuclear programme is another potential flashpoint, with Riyadh raising concerns Tehran could still seek to develop an atomic bomb.
    Official biographies say little of Jubeir's personal background.
    He attended schools in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Yemen, Lebanon and the United States, before receiving a Master's degree in international relations from Georgetown University in 1984.
    A fluent speaker of German as well as his native Arabic and English, he joined the diplomatic service in 1987, and was assigned to Washington.
    In the 1990-91 Gulf War he was part of the "Joint Information Bureau" based in the Saudi city of Dhahran, which organised foreign reporters covering the conflict.
    He was also posted with the Saudi armed forces to Somalia in 1992 and was later made an adviser to King Abdullah, who died in January aged about 90. AFP

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