Saudi ambassador to US shrugs off Biden, Sanders criticism

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. dismissed the top two Democratic presidential contenders’ criticisms of her country, saying Thursday that candidates’ opinions tend to change once they become president.

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud shrugged off both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden saying last year that the U.S.-Saudi relationship should be changed.

“I’ve always found that, many times, once a president gets to the White House, when they see a 360 (degree) effect, opinions can change,” Reema said during an interview with The Associated Press in Wyoming. “And so I will never comment on an election — it’s not our place — but I look forward to working with whoever’s in the White House.”

In a November debate of Democratic candidates, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” when referring to the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

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Sanders also has been critical of Saudi Arabia, calling it in the same debate a “brutal dictatorship” that treats women as “third-class citizens.”

The killing of Khashoggi, who wrote columns for the Washington Post critical of the Saudi government under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, provoked outrage and condemnation in the U.S., which has been a staunch ally.

Reema became ambassador to the U.S. in 2019 amid efforts by Saudi Arabia to improve its relationship with the United States after Khashoggi’s slaying.

Reema was in Wyoming to seek political and economic ties with a major producer of oil and natural gas that has been struggling with fossil fuels’ weak markets and uncertain outlook, much like Saudi Arabia.

She also drew a comparison ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday between recent women’s rights advancements in Saudi Arabia — where women are now allowed to drive vehicles — and Wyoming, which as a territory in 1869 became the first U.S. state or territory to give women the right to vote.

“If I want to be a thriving nation, if I want to be a thriving state, if I want to be a global player, certain things must happen,” Reema said. “And the focus on women’s rights in my country is not because somebody on the outside told us, ‘You must so this.’ It’s because 50% of our community, if you’d like a thriving economy, must participate.”

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Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report from Dubai.

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