Saudi King names Prince Nayef as heir and deputy PM; Obama congratulates Saudis


Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, was named as the new crown prince and deputy prime minister by royal decree which was read on state television on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated King Abdullah on the selection of Prince Nayef as his heir, noting the new crown prince’s counterterrorism record.

“I congratulate King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the selection of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as crown prince. We in the United States know and respect him for his strong commitment to combating terrorism and supporting regional peace and security,” Obama said in a statement.

“The United States looks forward to continuing our close partnership with Crown Prince Nayef in his new capacity as we strengthen the deep and longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

Earlier, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz held a meeting with the chief and members of the Allegiance-Pledge Commission at his palace in Riyadh. During the meeting, Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki al-Awwal (the first) bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prince Bandar bin Musaed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud were sworn in before the monarch as new members of the Commission, according to Saudi Press Agency.

The agency added that the new commission members pledged of allegiance to Prince Nayef and “wished him every success and to become the best assistant to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia steady security, stability and national integration.”

On Saturday, the Saudi royal palace announced the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, 80, who was deputy prime minister and defense minister, after a medical check visit to the United State.

There is no announcement however on who will be the next defense minister.

Prince Nayef was widely thought to be next in line after Prince Sultan, who was named second-deputy prime minister in 2009.

Prince Nayef, born in 1934, has held the post of interior minister since 1975 and was largely credited for Saudi Arabia’s successful fight against al-Qaeda.

Unlike in European monarchies, the line of succession does not move directly from father to eldest son, but has moved down a line of brothers born to the kingdom’s founder Ibn Saud, who died in 1953.

Anyone who rises to the throne is likely to maintain the kingdom’s close alliance with the United States. But there could be internal differences. King Abdullah has been seen as a reformer, making incremental changes to improve the position of women, for example, and to modernize the kingdom despite some backlash from ultra-conservative clerics.