Princess Reema, Bandar’s Daughter, Navigates Rough Waters in Washington

She attended the elite Holton-Arms School for girls in the suburbs outside Washington. On weekends she strolled with friends on shopping trips through the Tysons Corner Center mall in Northern Virginia. Three American secretaries of state — Colin L. Powell, James A. Baker and Madeleine Albright — were regular guests in her parents’ home.

These days, Princess Reema Bandar al-Saud, 48, the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, one of the most powerful diplomats in Washington when he was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States for more than two decades, occupies her father’s old job.

It has not been easy.

She landed in Washington as the first woman in the post in July 2019, less than a year after Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered and dismembered by Saudi agents. She faced the formidable task of trying to rehabilitate Saudi’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was assessed by U.S. intelligence agencies to have approved the grisly killing of Mr. Khashoggi. By early 2021 she was navigating the switch from the warm embrace of the Trump White House to the hostility of President Biden, who as a candidate in 2019 called the kingdom a “pariah.”

In the five tumultuous years since her arrival, Saudi Arabia’s fortunes in Washington, and Princess Reema’s, have turned. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the need for Saudi support in the oil markets led President Biden to a diplomatic fist-bump with the crown prince in Jeddah in the summer of 2022. Princess Reema, with the assistance of her kingdom’s multimillion dollar lobbying and publicity machine, has been a high-profile part of the grudging détente.

“In the relationship that the kingdom and the U.S. have had, there have been multiple highs and multiple lows,” she said during a recent interview in the American English of a person who grew up in the United States from a young age. “And part of my responsibility was to remind everybody in America what the highs looked like, and really work collaboratively to get ourselves back there.”

Activists revealed a new street sign in honor of Jamal Khashoggi directly in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington in 2022. The Saudi crown prince was assessed to have approved Khashoggi’s killing.Credit…Nathan Howard/Getty Images
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