Saudi Arabia finally gets a US ambassador after 2-year vacancy
The Senate confirmed Michael Ratney on Wednesday to serve as the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, nearly a year since he was named to the post. The confirmation follows improvements in US-Saudi relations, including the multibillion-dollar purchase of Boeing this week.
Background: Ratney, 62, is a career foreign service officer. Most recently he was acting deputy director of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.
Ratney speaks Arabic and has extensive experience in the Middle East. His resume includes serving as chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Jerusalem, acting deputy assistant secretary for Lebanese and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs, special envoy for Syria, spokesman for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and deputy missions by the Council. US Embassy in Doha. Additional past assignments include Baghdad, Beirut and Casablanca, according to the State Department.
Congratulations to Michael Ratney for being confirmed by the Senate to be the next US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It will carry forward a strong and dynamic eight-year-old bilateral relationship, spanning many key interests, from regional security to trade. pic.twitter.com/RWVfnwb9ln
— US Department of State – Near Eastern Affairs (@StateDept_NEA) March 15, 2023
Why it’s important: Ratney goes to Riyadh at an important time in US-Saudi relations, and after a 2-year vacancy in the post.
There has been tension between Washington and Riyadh in recent months. In contrast to when US President Joe Biden took office, promising to hold the kingdom accountable for the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen, the administration ultimately decided not to sanction Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Khashoggi and chose the UN-led process in Yemen.
The Biden administration criticized Saudi Arabia last November when OPEC+ decided to cut oil production, but later backtracked. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the administration dropped its threats of retaliation due to the oil cut and sought better coordination with Saudi Arabia against Iran.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it had purchased up to 121 “Dreamliner” planes from the US manufacturer Boeing. The aircraft will be used for the kingdom’s newly announced airline, Riyadh Air, and the White House called the deal “historic.”
Also on Wednesday, an anonymous US official told Axios that relations with the kingdom are in a “better place,” citing good talks on Yemen and security coordination.
Ratney’s declaration also follows significantly on Saudi Arabia and Iran agreeing last week to resume relations in a deal brokered by China. Saudi Arabia has been getting closer to China for years, especially in energy. Last year, Saudi Aramco finalized a deal to build a large petrochemical facility in China.
More information: Biden nominated Ratney all the way back in April of 2022. Senate confirmations have taken several months in recent years, but Ratney was specifically delayed when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) seized on him last September. Wyden announced the detention because of allegations that the Saudi government “systematically helped its citizens flee to the United States after being accused of violent crimes,” according to a statement from his office.
Wyden specifically referred to the Saudi national accused of hitting and killing Oregon teenager Fallon Smart with a speeding vehicle in 2020. Wyden announced that he removed the arrest last week after “new commitments that obtain from the Department of State to revoke the visas of the foreign officials involved. helping foreign nationals avoid prosecution or escape from the US justice system,” according to another statement.