May 25, 2013
Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, heir to throne, dies
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef, a hawkish interior minister who crushed al Qaeda in the world's top oil exporter, died eight months after becoming heir to the throne, paving the way for a more reform-minded successor.
As with previous successions, the selection process is likely to be smooth, with King Abdullah and a family council expected to start work on the appointment of a new crown prince swiftly.
Nayef's most likely successor is the pragmatic Prince Salman, 76, a brother of King Abdullah who was made defense minister in November after more than five decades as Riyadh governor, analysts and diplomats in the kingdom said.
The new crown prince will become heir to a king who is 89 years old in a country that faces a range of tough long-term challenges at home and turmoil in the region.
Saudi policymakers are grappling with the threat from al Qaeda, unrest among minority Shi'ite Muslims and youth unemployment.
Meanwhile they are engaged in a rivalry with regional powerhouse Iran as they navigate the aftermath of last year's Arab uprisings including revolts in Bahrain and Yemen, both on their doorstep.
"With deep sorrow and grief ... King Abdullah mourns his brother ... Crown Prince Nayef who passed to the mercy of God on Saturday outside the kingdom," said a royal court statement.
A source close to the royal family said Nayef had died suddenly in Geneva after receiving treatment for a knee complaint. He was thought to be 78.
US President Barack Obama issued a statement of condolences, saying that under Nayef's leadership, "the United States and Saudi Arabia developed a strong and effective partnership in the fight against terrorism, one that has saved countless American and Saudi lives."
The US embassy in Riyadh said Washington had "lost a close friend".
The death was not expected to trigger any major changes to the kingdom's energy policy or to key relationships with the United States and other allies.
"The fundamental principle that the Saudis operate under is stability," said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03. "So they will, I'm sure, develop a consensus among the senior members of the family over an orderly succession. That has likely been forming in recent months in any event."