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Embassy official: Saudi ambassador to U.S. resigns

Story Highlights

• Prince Turki al-Faisal returns home after 15 months on job, Saudi official says
• The health of al-Faisal's brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is not good
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States is resigning after only 15 months on the job, possibly to take a more senior foreign policy post in the oil-rich kingdom.

In his brief tenure, Prince Turki al-Faisal did not approach the celebrity status of his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who held the post for more than 22 years and had exceptional access to U.S. power brokers.

The ambassador's post is a crucial link between the United States and Saudi Arabia, one of the chief U.S. allies in the Middle East. Prince Turki's abrupt departure comes when the U.S. is seeking Riyadh's help in calming the violence in Iraq and dealing with Iran, which has been attempting to expand its influence in the region.

It also comes as the Bush administration is trying to work up a new Iraq policy to stop the violence there. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Saudi Arabia last month, asking the Saudis -- a Sunni-ruled country -- to encourage Iraq's Sunni Muslim Arabs to reconcile with the country's majority Shiites.

The Saudi government has not formally announced the resignation or a successor.

Prince Turki, a son of the late King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz, was outspoken in conveying the kingdom's views. In late October, he said U.S. standing in the Middle East was at an all-time low and could be helped only by pressing Israel to relinquish all land held by the Arabs before the 1967 Mideast war as well as Jerusalem.

"We want you to remain friends with Israel," he said at a news conference, "but this friendship should be used to push Israel."

In early October, he said Saudi Arabia will reform but at its own pace and not because of outside pressure. "We are not going to change just because you tell us to," the ambassador said in a Washington speech.

"We often hear political rhetoric and bombast and not constructive commentary," he said.

A Saudi official confirmed on Tuesday that Prince Turki was leaving his post. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, did not say why the change was occurring.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington, where Prince Turki has been posted since September 2005, said he would leave for Saudi Arabia early next year to spend more time with his family.

A State Department official, also declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the departure, said Prince Turki may be under consideration for a higher-ranked post in Riyadh.

His older brother, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, has had back problems. He has held the post since 1975.

But a retired official with knowledge of the situation said rumors that Prince Turki might succeed his brother were untrue.

The Saudi embassy told The Associated Press abroad that he was going home to spend more time with him family.

The ambassador met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday, but spokesman Sean McCormack declined to provide details.

"The president thanks Prince Turki for his service as ambassador and wishes Prince Turki and his family well as they return to the kingdom," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council.

Prince Turki is a former head of the Saudi intelligence services and a graduate of Georgetown University.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Prince Turki al-Faisal, left, joins his brother Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, center, in the Oval Office in July.

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