Princess Rima bint Bandar replaced Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of the powerful crown prince who was appointed vice defence minister in a flurry of late-night royal decrees announced on state media.
The reshuffle comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to quell an international outcry over Khashoggi’s murder last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which strained relations with its key ally Washington.
After initially denying they knew anything of Khashoggi’s disappearance, the kingdom finally acknowledged that Saudi agents killed him inside the consulate, but described it as a rogue operation.
Princess Rima faces hostile US lawmakers who have threatened to take tough action against Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing amid claims that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the de-facto ruler who also serves as the defence minister — was personally responsible.
The Saudi government has denied he had anything to do with the murder of Khashoggi, a royal insider-turned-critic who was a columnist with the Washington Post.
“The appointment of a new envoy signifies an attempt by Riyadh to try and re-set relations with Washington and draw a line under the Khashoggi affair, however unlikely that may be in practice, at least with Congress,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States, told AFP.
Princess Rima, the daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the United States, has been a leading advocate of female empowerment in the kingdom, which has long faced criticism over its treatment of women.
The princess previously worked at the kingdom’s General Sports Authority, where she led a campaign to increase women´s participation in sports.