Saudi Arabia's U.S. ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is resigning for what the Saudi foreign ministry said Wednesday were "private reasons."
Bandar, whose father, Prince Sultan, is the Saudi defense minister, has been in the post for 22 years and is considered the dean of Washington's diplomatic corps. As ambassador from the world's largest oil-producing nation, Bandar has enjoyed considerable White House access and influence in Washington circles.
He worked hard at maintaining strong ties between the United States and the conservative oil-rich monarchy. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, however, the Saudis have come under pressure to counter terrorists more aggressively and to block any financial support going to militant groups from within Saudi Arabia.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. That, and reports that some of his and his wife's charitable contributions may have ended up in the hands of two Saudis believed to have close ties to the hijackers, contributed to tensions with Washington.
"This is a war and we are in it together," Bandar said in an interview with The New York Times in November 2002. His wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, said she was outraged by any suggestions of a connection to terrorists. "All I wanted to do was to give some help to someone in need," she told the Times.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "We are saddened by his departure. He was a great friend and valued adviser."
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan released a statement saying, "In troubled times, U.S. Presidents past and present have relied upon Ambassador Bandar's advice. In good times, they have enjoyed his wit, charm, and humor. Throughout his tenure Ambassador Bandar has remained a close, steadfast friend to the United States."
Bandar's resignation coincides with uncertainty about the country's ruling hierarchy. King Fahd is seriously ill, and Prince Sultan could move up in any reshuffling of authority. Bandar himself has been rumored to be in line for a top security post in Riyadh.
Bandar has been on a summer-long vacation, fueling reports that he was resigning. Saudi officials had been disputing those reports.
In Riyadh, a foreign ministry official told The Associated Press that Prince Turki al-Faisal, another member of the extensive Saudi royal family, would replace Bandar as ambassador.