President Trump’s choice for the next U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia faced tough questions from U.S. senators but defended the U.S.-Saudi relationship on Wednesday and said the United States needed “a strong and mature partnership with Saudi Arabia.”
Retired General John Abizaid’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was the first of this session of congress. His confirmation hearing was alongside Matthew Tueller, who is Trump’s choice to be ambassador to Iraq.
Senators grilled Abizaid on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen, nuclear power, the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and recent decisions by Saudi leadership.
“I would like to make the current problems short-term problems,” Abizaid said, as he noted that the U.S.-Saudi relationship was bigger than the relationship between individuals in government. “Arab societies and Saudi Arabia in particular have many nodes of interest. These nodes of interest need to be engaged by [the U.S.] in order to find out ways to move forward and solve these problems.”
A strong U.S.-Saudi relationship is in the best interests of the United States because “[d]oing so bolsters the self-defense capabilities of our partners and reduces the risk of harm to civilians,” Abizaid said.
On questions regarding women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Abizaid noted that he had two daughters and that he will be interested in helping in the reform effort to “move the rights of women forward in a way that brings their talents and energy to the surface.”
When asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) if, as Ambassador, Abizaid would raise questions of human rights with the Saudi leadership, Abizaid replied with, “I will, Senator.”
An experienced military leader who retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 after 34 years of service, Gen. Abizaid was head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). At the time of his retirement, Abizaid was the longest serving commander of U.S. Central Command, from July 2003 and March 2007.