President Trump Names New Ambassador To Saudi Arabia
United States President Donald Trump has nominated John Abizaid, a former top general during the Iraq war, to be the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a position that has remained unfilled for two years. It comes amid one of the tensest-ever periods in the bilateral relationship, with many in Washington calling for a downgrading of ties following the grisly murder in October of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul. The White House has since directed the Pentagon to end refueling support for a coalition of Sunni Gulf countries fighting Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen, as Congress considers slapping sanctions on the regime of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Abizaid is of Lebanese Christian descent, fluent in Arabic, and headed U.S. Central Command—which covers the Middle East—from 2003-2007. Notably, Abizaid previously advocated for a relatively moderate approach to Tehran, describing the regime as a rational actor and suggesting “there are ways to live with a nuclear Iran.” By contrast, President Trump in May withdrew from the 2015 atomic deal and subsequently restored harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic, spanning its crucial energy, shipping and banking sectors.