Saudi Appointment Suggests Bigger Regional Ambitions By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
RIYADH—Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed a veteran former Saudi ambassador to Washington as the head of the country's intelligence agencies Thursday, restoring an internationally popular Saudi to prominence as the kingdom pushes for stronger action on Syria.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was popular with Western leaders as Saudi envoy to the U.S. from 1983 to 2005, succeeds Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
Prince Muqrin has been criticized privately by diplomats, and publicly by Saudis on Twitter, for perceived ineffectiveness as the head of Saudi intelligence. Prince Muqrin will serve instead as an adviser to the king, the official Saudi Press Agency said, in announcing the change.
For Saudis and Westerners who remember Prince Bandar as a driving force rallying international support and procuring weapons for Muslim fighters seeking to push Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, the appointment was a sign that the Saudis might play a more influential role as uprisings that may remake the Arab world, especially in Syria.
"In these very hectic moments for Saudi foreign policy…we need Bandar bin Sultan," said Abdullah al-Shammri, a political analyst. "He's a volcano, and we need a volcano at this moment."
Mr. al-Shammri cited what he called Prince Bandar's "special relationship" with American officials. He also mentioned parallels between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia working together in the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and current circumstances in Syria, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others are trying to overcome Russian objections to tougher action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was also responsible for the good relations Prince Bandar enjoys with China, noted Michael Stephens, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.
"If they're looking to increase multilateral engagement on the Syrian issue, he's their man," Mr. Stephens said of the Saudis and Prince Bandar.
Mr. Stephens noted, however, that Saudi intelligence hasn't traditionally been a place for active engagement in Saudi foreign-policy aims.
Prince Bandar, son of the late defense minister and crown prince, Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, wielded enormous influence as Saudi ambassador to Washington for two decades, and was a close ally of then-President George W. Bush and other U.S. leaders.
His removal in 2005 was officially described as stemming from personal reasons, although some speculated that illness or a falling out with King Abdullah was responsible.
Prince Bandar had kept a much lower profile in recent years as head of the kingdom's national-security council.
The official Saudi Press Agency would show him at the side of the country's leaders, however, at times when top Americans visited Riyadh, most recently during Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus's talks here this month.
Saudi officials had blamed the U.S. early in the Arab uprisings for failing to more actively support former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before his ouster in February 2011.
Today, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are again working closely together in opposition to Mr. Assad, and at a time of heightened international tension over Iran's nuclear program.
Write to Ellen Knickmeyer at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared July 20, 2012, on page A6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Saudi Appointment Suggests Bigger Regional Ambition.
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Dr. Turki Faisal Al Rasheed
Saudi Businessman lives in Riyadh. President/Founder of Golden Grass Inc. Author of "Agricultural Development Strategies: the Saudi experience".
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