By Al Arabiya - Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was named on Monday as the kingdom’s new heir apparent following the death of Crown Prince Prince Nayef on Saturday.
Prince Salman, 76, was appointed defense minister after the passing of Prince Sultan, the then crown prince and long-serving defence and aviation minister. It was the first ministerial post for Prince Salman who has been the governor of Riyadh since 1962.
Saudi King Abdullah appointed on Monday his half-brother Prince Salman “crown prince and deputy prime minister” while retaining him as defence minister.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz was appointed as interior minister, a position held by Crown Prince Nayef for over 30 years, state television Al-Ekhbariyah reported.
Pragmatic Prince Salman
Prince Salman was widely believed to be the new heir apparent because of pragmatism and understanding of powers that dominate Saudi politics.
He also is seen as more moderate than his brother, the late crown prince.
According to a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Prince Salman advocates a cautious approach to social and cultural reform.
“It appeared to me he had a good handle on the delicate balancing act he had to do to move society forward while being respectful of its traditions and conservative ways,” said Robert Jordan, who was U.S. ambassador in Riyadh from 2001-03.
“He doesn’t blindly accept everything the United States says, but at the same time he understands the importance of the relationship, which goes beyond oil,” Jordan added.
Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that Prince Salman has a very good relationship with the U.S. and the U.S. military. Since becoming defense minister, he has met with a number of U.S. political and military officials “to help keep the U.S.-Saudi military relationship healthy” the news agency said.
Prince Salman belongs to the group of the so-called Sudairi Seven, all sons of the kingdom’s founder Abdulaziz al-Saud and wife Hassa bint-Ahmed al-Sudairi. His other brothers included former King Abdullah, and both the late crown princes, Sultan and Nayef. He is half-brother to the current king.
Prince Salman’s sons have successful businesses and also own two newspapers: Asharq al-Awsat and Arab News.
Under his leadership, the defense ministry announced plans to modernize the armed forces and also bought sophisticated fighter jets and other aircraft from both the U.S. and UK.
In May the kingdom signed a $3-billion deal with Britain to buy trainer jets for its air force and signed a near $30 billion deal and as recently as Sunday a German newspaper reported that Saudi Arabia wants to buy 600 to 800 Leopard battle tanks from Germany, at least twice the number previously expected.