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Saudi king’s air force pilot son named envoy to US

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has named an air force pilot son of King Salman as ambassador to the United States, a major ally with which its ties are improving under President Donald Trump.

The change came among a series of orders issued on Saturday by the king, who shuffled his cabinet, restored civil service benefits and replaced the head of the army, which for two years has been fighting rebels in Yemen.

“Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki removed as ambassador to the US. Prince Khaled bin Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed ambassador,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the royal order.

Prince Abdullah had served for just over a year, according to the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington.

The US and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

But ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of US president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Mr Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting toward Iran.

The Saudis have found a more favourable ear in Washington under President Trump, who took office in January and has denounced Iran’s “harmful influence” in the Middle East.

Washington provides some logistical and intelligence support, as well as weapons, for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The kingdom also belongs to the US-led coalition against the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Prince Khaled, the new ambassador, is an air force pilot who flew missions as part of that anti-IS coalition, said Salman al Ansari, president of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC). Mr Ansari, whose committee is a private initiative to strengthen Saudi-US ties, described Prince Khaled as a “very organised personality, savvy, youthful, and active”.

Another son of King Sal­man, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, is second in line to the throne and is one of the kingdom’s most powerful figures.

He holds the post of defence minister and is pushing a wide-ranging social and economic reform programme.

Among other orders issued by King Salman, the head of the army, Lt Gen Eid al Shalwi, was removed. Fahad bin Turki was promoted to replace him.

The army is helping to defend Saudi Arabia’s southern border from rebel incursions.

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