Biden to nominate career diplomat Michael Ratney as ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Mr Ratney, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, speaks fluent Arabic and has served across the Middle East

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President Joe Biden on Friday said he would nominate career diplomat Michael Ratney as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The nomination, announced by the White House, would see one of the State Department's most experienced Middle East hands in the crucial post in Riyadh.

Mr Ratney, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, speaks fluent Arabic and has served across the Middle East, most recently as charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Prior to that, he served as the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for the Levant and Israel and Palestinian affairs, and as US special envoy for Syria.

Other regional assignments have included posts in Doha, Beirut and Baghdad.

Naming an ambassador to Riyadh comes more than a year after Mr Biden took office. The diplomatic void in Saudi Arabia has contributed to growing distance between the kingdom and the Biden administration.

Mr Ratney is known for his soft-spoken and diplomatic approach to handling intricate policy issues. Unlike the previous US ambassador to Riyadh, John Abizaid, Mr Ratney does not come from a military background.

He also has a good relationship with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, with whom he worked closely during the Obama administration.

Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen and senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank, said the nomination brings someone highly qualified but with a background that differs from his predecessors.

Mr Ratney "is a very experienced and a very qualified professional, who has worked in the region for a number of years, has handled very challenging assignments, and done very well”, Mr Feierstein told The National.

But Mr Feierstein said Mr Ratney’s resume differs from prior nominees because he is neither a political appointee nor a former general like Mr Abizaid.

“Saudi officials for the last 30 years have been very clear in saying that their preference is to have a political appointee with links to the president,” he said.

The Saudi response to the nomination will be critical, Mr Feierstein said.

The fact the Biden administration “has finally stepped up and nominated somebody is absolutely a positive development", he added.

They “nominated somebody who is extremely well qualified for the job, can bring strong diplomatic skills to the table to help address some of the challenges in the relationship," Mr Feierstein said.

Mr Ratney's nomination now moves to the Senate, which will schedule his testimony and later vote on his confirmation.

Updated: April 23, 2022, 4:39 AM