Trump Picks a Retired General as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump intends to nominate John Abizaid, a retired Army general, to be the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the White House said on Tuesday night.
Abizaid’s career included tours as a commandant of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and as commander of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in 20 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He is now a security consultant and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Abizaid graduated from West Point and became a platoon leader. He took part in operations in Grenada and Kosovo as well as the war in Iraq, eventually rising to four-star general, according to his biography on the Defense Department website. He received a master’s in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard.
Washington has not had an ambassador to Riyadh even as Trump made the kingdom a crucial player in his strategy to contain Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East.
The nomination, which must be approved by the Senate, comes as U.S.-Saudi relations have been strained over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the kingdom’s intervention in the civil war in Yemen, which has turned into a humanitarian crisis.
The Saudi Crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has pursued the Yemen campaign vigorously, and Turkey has stopped just short of accusing him of having a role in Khashoggi’s death. The prince has denied any involvement in the killing.
But American political leaders have expressed outrage over the murder, including Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who said Tuesday that he and other previous backers of Saudi Arabia were discussing sanctions.
The Trump administration has turned away calls for penalties and insisted that arms sales to the Saudis go forward.
Trump has backed out of a nuclear agreement with Iran and has proclaimed that the Iranians must never acquire atomic weapons. In a 2007 speech, Abizaid warned against military force to prevent Iran from developing such weapons, according to the Associated Press. He said that the U.S. could deter the Tehran government from using nuclear weapons if it possessed them, the AP added.
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