Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has appointed a new foreign minister as part of a major cabinet reshuffle, according to Saudi state media.
A royal decree named Ibrahim al-Assaf as new foreign minister, demoting outgoing chief diplomat Adel al-Jubeir to the position of minister of state for foreign affairs.
Thursday’s shake-up is the first since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October by a Saudi hit squad.
The death sparked outrage internationally and jeopardised Riyadh’s relations with its western allies.
Turkey and western intelligence agencies have either hinted at or directly named King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the mastermind behind the killing but the monarch left his heir’s portfolios unchanged in the latest reshuffle.
Marwan Kabalan, head of policy analysis at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, said the move did not come as a surprise given that al-Jubeir was seen as a “leftover from the [late] King Abdulla era”.
“We’ve been expecting al-Jubeir to be out for some time. Even before the Khashoggi affair,” Kabalan said in reference to the murder of Khashoggi on October 2.
“But I now think he’s been used as another scapegoat in this issue.”
Authorities in Riyadh admitted to the killing of the government critic in an operation they described as being undertaken by “rogue elements.”
“I think he is out now – perhaps at the right time for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As I said, the crown prince wanted to use somebody as a scapegoat and also hold him responsible,” Kabalan added.
“Because the Saudi consul general in Istanbul was very much involved in the killing of Khashoggi and that would fall under al-Jubeir.”
A former finance minister, al-Assaf was among dozens of royal family members, government officials, and top businessmen detained during an “anti-corruption purge” in November 2017.
Other notable changes include the appointment of Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz as chief of the National Guard, replacing Prince Miteb bin Abdullah.
General Khalid bin Qirar al-Harbi was also named general security chief, while Musaed al-Aiban was appointed national security adviser.