Sunday Telegraph: A power battle within the secretive Saudi royal family over how to contain Iran lay behind the abrupt resignation of its high-profile ambassador to Washington, it was reported yesterday, writes Philip Sherwell. The Sunday Telegraph
By Philip Sherwell
A power battle within the secretive Saudi royal family over how to contain Iran lay behind the abrupt resignation of its high-profile ambassador to Washington, it was reported yesterday, writes Philip Sherwell.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief who was previously ambassador to Britain, stunned diplomats in Washington when he abandoned his prestigious posting after just 18 months.
But according to The Washington Post, Prince Turki was constantly undermined by his predecessor and brother-in-law, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who represented Saudi Arabia for 22 years in the US and was an old friend of President George W Bush.
Quoting sources close to the family, the newspaper said Prince Bandar, now the Saudis’ national security adviser, returned secretly to America sometimes monthly for unofficial talks with US officials including Vice-President Dick Cheney. Prince Turki was not usually informed, and the Saudi embassy resorted to sending diplomats to the airport to check whether Prince Bandar’s jet was in the country.
The focus of the royal rift is apparently a dispute over how Saudi Arabia, the home of the Sunni branch of Islam, should counter the growing regional influence of Iran, the Middle East’s major Shia Muslim power.
Prince Turki publicly supported diplomatic negotiations with Iran, which backs armed groups hostile to the West in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, and is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. But Prince Bandar was reportedly lobbying to maintain the US policy of isolating Teheran.
Prince Bandar, who has the ear of King Abdullah, was alarmed that the Iraq Study Group recommended direct US talks with Iran about Iraq. As The Sunday Telegraph reported earlier this month, Mr Cheney was summoned to Riyadh to hear Saudi concerns amid reports that the kingdom might intervene to help Iraq’s Sunni minority against the Iranian-backed Shias. Prince Bandar flew to Washington, for further talks with US officials, shortly before Prince Turki resigned.
In an apparent side-effect of the royal split, several US lobbying groups and event organisers told The Washington Post that they were owed millions of dollars for work conducted recently for the Saudi embassy.
No Saudi official was available in Washington yesterday to comment, but one outside adviser said: “Of course there are sometimes differences on how to approach policy, but the royal family remains very close.”