President Donald Trump will nominate retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former head of US Central Command, as the new American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the White House announced Tuesday.
The nomination comes at a critical moment in diplomatic relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as the White House and Congress consider their response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.
Abizaid retired from the US Army after 34 years of service, according to CENTCOM’s website, and in that time rose from infantry platoon leader to four-star general.
He was the head of CENTCOM from 2003 to 2007, and oversaw military strategy and joint operations in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.
Abizaid is a highly decorated officer who has been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star, according to CENTCOM.
The retired general was a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and runs JPA Partners, an international strategic consulting firm. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Abizaid will need to be confirmed by the Senate to become ambassador.
The US did not have an ambassador to Saudi Arabia when Khashoggi was killed – the post has been vacant since January 2017.
As a columnist, Khashoggi was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime. The Saudi Arabian journalist was living in self-imposed exile in the United States, and was a Virginia resident.
Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork he needed for his upcoming wedding. Upon entering the consulate, according to the chief prosecutor’s office in Istanbul, he was strangled and his body dismembered.
As details of his killing unfolded and international pressure mounted, the Saudis presented changing stories about his death. They initially denied any knowledge, but then said a group of rogue operators were responsible for his killing.
US officials have speculated that such a mission – including the 15 men sent from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to murder him – could not have been carried out without the authorization of Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
After Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi had been killed in its Istanbul consulate, five high-ranking officials were dismissed, including bin Salman’s media chief and the deputy head of the Saudi intelligence service.
CNN’s Euan McKirdy contributed to this report.