Saudi king demotes FM in revamp seen as whitewash

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signs documents during the 2019 budget meeting in Riyadh Saudi Arabia

The shake up comes as the kingdom grapples with global outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a scandal that has tipped Riyadh into one of its worst worldwide crises.

But the appointment as foreign minister of Assaf, who holds a seat on the boards of state oil giant Aramco and the vast Public Investment Fund, indicates an emphasis on "economic diplomacy" as the kingdom seeks to reassure foreign investors rattled by the Khashoggi crisis, analysts say.

A royal decree was also issued to restructure the Political and Security Affairs Council, headed by Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which has seen Saudi Arabia embroiled in its worst scandal in decades.

Badr Bin Sultan has been appointed Deputy Emir of Makkah and Eman Al-Mutairi as assistant minister of commerce.

Jubeir will be demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, it added.

The SPA said the royal order also relieved the kingdom's ambassador to the UK, Mohammed bin Nawwaf, from his post and reassigned him as an advisor to the Saudi king.

Turki al-Sheikh has been moved to a new portfolio heading up the entertainment authority.

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Assaf was released within weeks of his detention at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel past year after being cleared of wrongdoing and without making any payment to the state, as many others held in the crackdown had to do. Prince Sultan had been head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).

"You can not delink Khashoggi from any developments, though government reshuffles are customary every four years", said Mohammed Alyahya, a senior fellow at the Gulf Research Centre.

The shakeup comes after Saudi Arabia last week said it was creating government bodies to boost oversight of its intelligence operations, in the wake of Khashoggi's murder.

The announcement is part of the first major reshuffle of leadership positions after the controversy surrounding the killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

His articles in the Washington Post had been particularly critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto leader. While President Donald Trump has sought to emphasize the importance of the USA alliance with Saudi Arabia, prominent senators have come out against the crown prince, with one, Republican Lindsey Graham, describing him as "crazy" and "dangerous".

In an interview with CBS News in November, weeks after Khashoggi was murdered, al-Jubeir said the crown prince was "not involved" in his death and that "nobody" in Saudi Arabia is above the law.

Senior U.S. officials indicated they might back Prince Ahmed as king, Reuters reported last month, citing unidentified people close to the Saudi court.

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