Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., flew out of Washington yesterday after informing Secretary Rice and his staff that he would be leaving the post after only 15 months on the job so he could spend more time with his family.
The abrupt departure is particularly striking because his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, spent 22 years on the job. The Saudi ambassador is one of the most influential diplomatic positions in Washington and is arguably the most important overseas post for the oil-rich desert kingdom.
The exit -- without the fanfare that normally accompany a leading envoy's departure, much less a public statement -- comes as his brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the highly influential Saudi foreign minister, is ailing. Saud has held the post since 1975, which makes him the longest serving foreign minister in the world.
As Saud's health has declined, Turki has increasingly been rumored as a possible replacement for his older brother. He would symbolize continuity in Saudi foreign policy at a moment of tension over Iraq between Riyadh and Washington. The Saudis are deeply concerned about the change in the balance of power in Iraq to Shiites. Earlier this year, the kingdom announced it will build an elaborate barrier along the remote desert frontier, with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, underground sensor cables and command posts.