Biden picks career diplomat Michael Ratney as envoy to Saudi Arabia

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U.S. President Joe Biden announces additional military aid for Ukraine in speech at the White House in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden intends to nominate career diplomat Michael Ratney to be U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the White House said on Friday, amid strained relations between Washington and its traditional Gulf allies.

If confirmed by the Senate, Ratney, who was previously the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the U.S. special envoy for Syria, would be the first career diplomat to serve as ambassador to Riyadh in three decades.

U.S.-Saudi ties have been strained by Biden’s decisions last year to curtail U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and to publish intelligence that the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved an operation to capture or kill murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince, who is known as MBS, in the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of MBS and who was dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the crown prince in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Relations between the United States and the world’s largest oil exporter have also been frayed by Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which U.S. allies in the Gulf argue does too little to prevent Tehran from getting an atomic bomb.

Washington has also been trying, so far without success, to persuade Saudi Arabia to pump more oil beyond the small increase it has agreed within the OPEC+ production group to offset potential losses in Russian supplies after Moscow was sanctioned by the West over its invasion of Ukraine.

Ratney, whose official biography says he speaks Arabic and French, has previously been deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Doha and has had tours in Mexico City, Baghdad, Beirut, Casablanca, Bridgetown, and Washington.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Chizu Nomiyama and Bernard Orr)