- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bandar resigns

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longest-serving and perhaps best-connected foreign diplomat in Washington, has resigned, the Saudi government announced yesterday, ending months of speculation on the future of the dashing envoy who had close relations with five U.S. presidents.

Prince Bandar, the dean of the diplomatic corps, cited “personal reasons” when he asked Saudi King Fahd for permission to resign from the office he has held since presenting his credentials to President Reagan on Oct. 24, 1983.

“After more than 20 years of distinguished service as ambassador of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America, during which time he demonstrated exceptional gifts and rendered outstanding services to his king and country, His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz recently appealed to … King Fahd bin Abdulaziz to relieve him of his duties for personal reasons,” the Saudi government said.

“In appreciation of these reasons, King Fahd graciously acquiesced.”

The White House yesterday called Prince Bandar “a tireless advocate for close ties, warm relations, and mutual understanding” between the two countries.

“In troubled times U.S. presidents past and present have relied upon Ambassador Bandar’s advice,” said spokesman Scott McClellan. “In good times, they have enjoyed his wit, charm, and humor.”

He added that President Bush “bids Ambassador Bandar and his family a fond farewell and wishes them all the best on their return to the kingdom.”

Prince Bandar, 56, became a confidant of American presidents even before he was named ambassador.

In 1978, Prince Bandar, then a major in the Saudi air force, was in Washington on military business when he met President Carter, who asked for his help in persuading Congress to approve the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar is a former fighter pilot.

Mr. Reagan relied on Prince Bandar, then ambassador, to arrange financing for the Nicaraguan resistance in the 1980s. During the Reagan administration, Prince Bandar developed a close relationship with Mr. Bush’s father, who was then vice president.

When the elder Mr. Bush won the 1988 presidential election, Prince Bandar became a regular guest at the White House. The ambassador played a key role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Saudi Arabia joined the United States in liberating Kuwait from Iraqi invaders.

Prince Bandar had become so close to the Bush family that he was devastated when Mr. Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

“It was like I lost one of my family, dead,” he told the New Yorker magazine in a 2003 profile.

Prince Bandar had first met Mr. Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. As president, Mr. Clinton relied heavily on Prince Bandar in his Middle East peace efforts, which ultimately failed.

Prince Bandar’s most difficult times in Washington came after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were identified as Saudi citizens.

“I felt the whole world collapse over my shoulders,” he told the New Yorker.

Mr. Bush invited Prince Bandar to the White House two days after the attacks to reassure him that his administration did not blame the Saudi government for the attacks.

Rumors of Prince Bandar’s resignation surfaced last month, when reports speculated that he would be reassigned as interior minister. The Saudi Embassy denied that he had resigned. Prince Bandar has been on vacation all summer and has not commented on his future. He is scheduled to return to Washington sometime next month.

The announcement of his resignation and the appointment of his brother-in-law, Prince Turki al-Faisal, as the new ambassador here threw the embassy into confusion, especially over the Sept. 23 National Day celebration.

“We had to cancel our National Day celebration because we did not know which ambassador to put on the invitation,” a Saudi diplomat said.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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