Saudi King Names Fighter Pilot Son Ambassador to United States

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has named one of his sons — a fighter pilot who has taken part in coalition strikes against ISIS — as the country's new ambassador to Washington as part of a major government shakeup.

Prince Khaled bin Salman has a direct line to the Saudi monarch and his appointment is a sign of the Gulf kingdom's eagerness to strengthen relations with the U.S.

He is a former F-15 pilot who graduated military-aviation training from Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi in 2009 and also participated in flight missions over Yemen, where the kingdom has been bombing a Yemeni faction aligned with Iran for more than two years.

Prince Khaled will be replacing Prince Abdullah Al Saud, who served in the post for just 18 months. Though a member of the royal family, Prince Abdullah was not seen as part of the inner Al Saud circle.

Image: Prince Khaled bin Salman
A picture released by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) in 2014 shows Saudi Arabian air force pilot, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as he sits in the cockpit of a fighter jet. HO / AFP - Getty Images

The move announced over the weekend was part of a huge shakeup that reshuffled significant diplomatic, cabinet, intelligence and security posts. The king also replaced several ministers and governors of important provinces.

The changes come as the Saudi-led coalition remains mired in a bloody war with Iran-linked rebels in neighboring Yemen. It also follows dramatic plans to restructure the economy aimed at reducing oil, water and electricity subsidies, and cutting officials' wages and perks, as well as the partial privatization of state-owned oil giant Aramco.

Last year, Saudi Arabia cut ministers' salaries by a fifth and scaled back perks for public sector employees in one of the energy-rich kingdom's most drastic measures to save money after falling oil prices. The measures were the first pay cuts for government employees, who account for about two-thirds of all working Saudis, and prompted complaints about the impact of austerity.

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According to Reuters, the king issued a royal decree restoring "all allowances, financial benefits, and bonuses" following calls for protests in four Saudi cities over the weekend, adding a two-month salary bonus for forces fighting in the kingdom's intervention in Yemen.

Saudis circulated demands for the reinstatement of benefits, a halt to the sale of shares in state oil giant Aramco, a constitutional monarchy and the restoration of the powers of the religious police under the Twitter hashtag "April 21 movement," Reuters added.

Under the weekend's sweeping changes, the Commander of Ground Forces in the Military has been reassigned and a National Security Center established, according to state-run news agency, SPA.

The new governors and ministers were sworn in Monday, SPA reported.