From Saudi fighter pilot to US envoy, Prince Khalid, strikes right note

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“I used to wake up and check the weather, now I check the news”, says Prince Khalid bin Salman, new Saudi envoy to the US, in an exclusive interview to the New York Times.

The wide-ranging interview with the 28-year-old Saudi Ambassador touches on the Saudi relationship with President Trump and his Administration, his views on JASTA , regional issues like Yemen and his life in America.

Prince Khalid, the 28-year-old son of the Saudi king and younger brother of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, is a former fighter pilot. And typically, on his first official American trip as the Saudi ambassador to the United States, visited Saudi military officers at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, met with Saudi engineers in Silicon Valley and also with Lockheed Martin executives in Texas.

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Of course, his sudden foray into diplomacy does not match his earlier experience as fighter pilot and officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force. But after his American tour, when he settles down into his diplomatic duties in Washington, he is well-placed to leverage his royal connections “to enhance the considerable influence the Saudis enjoy in the capital, now more than ever.”

Equation with Trump

Saudi Arabia is in a much happier situation than many other allies in its equation with the Trump Administration, with Riyadh once again being treated as a trusted partner , unlike the eight difficult years with the Obama administration.

According to Prince Khalid, the bilateral relationship is on a stronger footing as the Trump team “understands the common threats and the common interests.”

On Washinton’s changed approach to Iran, Prince Khalid says his country feels encouraged and that Trump is on the right track vis-à-vis dealing with Tehran.

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Being young and media-savvy, besides being interested in American pop culture, the NYT notes that Prince Khalid is the “prime example of the type of modern Saudi official the kingdom wants to show the American public.”

With Prince Khalid being in Washington, the newspaper comments that information flows between the White House, the embassy and Riyadh, will be smooth.

On Yemen, the Saudi envoy says that Washington takes the issue of Saudi security as important for the US too. The arms sales to Riyadh should be considered in that light, and in case it was blocked, the Kingdom will be able to procure them “from somewhere else.”

The Qatar issue posed an early challenge to the young Saudi Ambassador and he went about swiftly meeting with more than a dozen lawmakers at Capitol Hill. Prominent among them was Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Corker, through his spokesperson, confirmed via email that it was indeed a “productive meeting.”

“He and his brother, the Crown Prince, will play an important role in modernizing the partnership between our countries, and I am hopeful they will make positive contributions that foster shared interests for regional security and stability.”

JASTA repeal sought

On the crucial JASTA issue, the Saudi government had sought for a repeal of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a 2016 law that would allow family members of 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom over the attacks.

According to Prince Khalid, the JASTA Bill is a threat to American-Saudi ties, and therefore a threat to US national security.

He thinks that “at the end of the day, wisdom will prevail,” as people in the US view that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was crucial for American interests as well as to strengthen Washington’s counterterrorism policy.

On Vision 2030, the national economic and social transformation plan that his elder brother Mohammed Bin Salman has spearheaded, Prince Khalid said that the Saudi leadership is trying to make sure “we move forward and make sure every citizen in Saudi Arabia moves forward with us.”

This includes his optimism about granting women the right to drive.

The New York Times notes that apart from his visits to Capitol Hill, Prince Khalid leads a low profile social life in Washington at his huge residence overlooking the Potomac River in McLean, Virginia, with his wife and two young children, preferring to host visitors there.

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