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New Saudi intelligence head a savvy choice

RIYADH -- The appointment of Saudi Arabia's longtime envoy to the United States as intelligence chief marks an attempt to give the service a diplomatic edge at a time of turmoil in the region, analysts say.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served in Washington from 1983 to 2005 and was named intelligence chief on Thursday, has the ability “to think outside the box, overcome obstacles, make decisions and work in an innovative way,” international relations analyst Abdullah al-Shummari told AFP.

He could play a key role in helping the kingdom “re-evaluate its strategies in foreign policy ... (as) major geostrategic changes across the Arab world will rearrange the roles of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran in the Middle East,” Shummari said.

Saudi Arabia has “an opportunity to regain its leading role” in the region after it “subsided in favor of Iran and Turkey following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq” in 2003, he said.

Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, believes that “the current situation requires greater coordination, not only on a regional level but also internationally.”

The kingdom, which had traditionally focused on maintaining strong ties with Western powers, had in recent years tried to “establish good relations with Russia and exchanged visits on the highest levels,” said Sager.

But relations with Moscow have taken a series of hits since the Arab Spring uprisings swept the region last year, notably over Russia's support for its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

While Saudi Arabia has openly called for the arming of rebels fighting Assad's regime, Russia has joined China in repeatedly using its veto to block tough action at the U.N. Security Council over the 16-month revolt.

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