Adel al-Jubeir appointed foreign minister

29 April 2015

Choice suggests Saudi Arabia’s proactive foreign policy to continue

  • Adel al-Jubeir replaces Prince Saud bin Faisal as Foreign Minister
  • Al-Jubeir has been Saudi ambassador to the US since 2007
  • Saudi Arabia’s close links to the US and proactive foreign policy are likely to continue

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, has been appointed foreign minister in the wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle.

He replaces 75-year-old Prince Saud bin Faisal al-Saud, who served in the post for 40 years.

Prince Saud bin Faisal “asked to be removed due to the condition of his health”, according to a royal decree issued on 28 April. He will now take the less demanding role of special envoy and adviser to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

Al-Jubeir has served as ambassador to Washington since 2007 and was educated in the US. He is likely to continue the kingdom’s close relationship with the US, and foreign policy objectives are unlikely to change.

“Adel al-Jubeir knows the policy well and has been the ambassador in the US for some time,” says Christian Koch, director of the Swiss-based Gulf Reasearch Centre. “He is not about to challenge the Saudi leadership on a policy shift as he also supports fully the activist stance the kingdom is currently taking.”

Al-Jubeir came into the public eye in March in a series of press conferences in Washington. He briefed the press on Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, praising its achievements.

“The key positions in sovereign ministries were held up until now by established figures such as Saud bin Faisal, who have years of experience and constituencies in their own right,” says Christopher Davidson, reader in Middle Eastern Politics at Durham University in the UK and author of “After the Sheikhs”. “They have been removed and replaced with technocrats who owe their positions to the new regime and are essentially frontmen for the real policy-makers.”

He will also work closely with both the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Saudi Defence Minister and newly appointed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bin Nayef is close to the US and has frequently cooperated on counter-terrorism matters.

Bin Salman has been brought to public attention as the principal actor associated with the Yemen campaign.

The Yemen intervention is the latest example of Saudi Arabia’s more active foreign policy, which is set by King Salman.

“The proactive foreign policy is now entrenched,” says Davidson. “The Yemen campaign is the strongest signal yet that Saudi Arabia sees itself as a regional hegemon which will fight its own corner.”

It has been accompanied by strong anti-Iranian sentiment in Saudi Arabia, and is believed to be a response to the prospect of Tehran improving its diplomatic relations with Washington. Iran signed a nuclear framework agreement with the P5+1 group of world powers on 2 April. An official statement welcomed the deal.

Saudi Arabia is also taking a proactive role in countering Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The kingdom channelled arms and funding to opposition militias in Syria, although this policy took a back seat after Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the intelligence chief, stepped down a year ago.

“There is a strong anti-Iran sentiment in this leadership,” continues Davidson. “Faisal bin Saud and the late King Abdullah were more workmanlike and pragmatic. This is not to say that there weren’t daggers drawn on many occasions but negotiations were always around the corner. That is off the table now.”

The kingdom now opposes Islamist groups in Syria and is cracking down on suspected sympathisers at home.

King Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, repaired relations with fellow GCC member Qatar, mending a rift that caused several GCC countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Doha.

Saudi Arabia is also deeply committed to supporting President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt both politically and economically. The kingdom pledged $4bn in support at the Egypt Economic Development Conference held in March in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Al-Sisi recently announced an agreement regarding a pan-Arab military force, in which Saudi Arabia would be a key member.

With a young, hawkish trio influencing Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, this active approach from Riyadh is likely to continue.

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