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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saudi king resets succession to cope with turbulent times

RIYADH | BY ANGUS MCDOWALL (Reuters) - Saudi King Salman appointed a new heir and made his young son second in line to rule on Wednesday, a major shift in power within the ultra conservative kingdom's elite at a time of almost unprecedented regional turmoil. By making Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, 30, deputy crown prince, King Salman has effectively decided the line of succession for decades to come in the world's top oil exporter. Almost all powers under the king are now concentrated in the hands of the pair, who each chair committees determining all security and economic development issues in Saudi Arabia, and have led Riyadh's month-old campaign of air strikes in Yemen. In another big shift, Salman replaced veteran Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had served in the role since October 1975, with the kingdom's Washington ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, the first non-royal to hold the post. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who replaces Prince Muqrin, the successor chosen by the late King Abdullah before his death in January, enjoys closer personal ties with U.S. officials than almost any other senior royal, diplomats have said. The changes come as Saudi Arabia navigates the messy aftermath of the Arab spring and has departed from decades of backroom politics with its military intervention in Yemen. The Yemen move, closely associated with both Prince Mohammeds, is seen by analysts as reflecting a more assertive approach to Saudi Arabia's foreign policy under Salman and his ruling team. "I think we're going to see a more confrontational policy, faster decision-making and more long-term thinking. A leadership that won't hesitate from any confrontation," said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with close ties to the kingdom's Interior Ministry. RELATED COVERAGE › New Saudi Crown Prince marks generational shift › Saudi king orders one-month salary bonus for security personnel It follows what many Saudis see as a decade of growing Iranian influence across the Middle East and a steady disengagement by Riyadh's historical main strategic partner Washington. Saudi Arabia also faces long-term domestic challenges, including entrenched youth unemployment, unsustainable state spending and tension between religious conservatives and more Western-oriented liberals. OIL APPOINTMENTS The reshuffle also touched the oil sector, hugely sensitive to financial markets as the world's biggest petroleum exporting country holds the key to global supplies. The chief executive of state oil firm Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, was appointed Health Minister, according to the text of the decree published on the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television also reported he had been named chairman of state oil company Saudi Aramco, a position hitherto held by veteran Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, who remained in his ministerial post. The decree as published on SPA did not mention the new role at Aramco, but oil traders said they were closely monitoring the situation to see if there would be a new Aramco CEO and whether oil minister Naimi's position would be affected. Naimi, who is 79 years old and has been oil minister since 1995, was seen as crucial in Saudi Arabia’s decision last November not to cut production in support of crude prices, which have halved since June 2014. Analysts said oil policy was not likely to change. While Mohammed bin Nayef is a familiar figure both inside the kingdom and in the West for his role in quashing an al Qaeda uprising and leading Saudi policy in Syria, his successor as second in line to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman, is comparatively unknown. Until four months and six days ago, the young Prince Mohammed had only served as head of his father's court, was a virtual stranger to the Saudi public and had had relatively little contact with the kingdom's foreign partners. Since then he has become, as Defence Minister, the face of Saudi Arabia's newly-launched war in Yemen, with his bearded features rarely off television screens or street billboards, and is now established as a central figure. "Mohammed bin Salman can grow into the job under Mohammed bin Nayef's supervision," Alani said. The replacement of Prince Muqrin, Salman's youngest half brother, as crown prince means the present monarch will be the last of the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder King Abdulaziz Al Saud to rule after five of his brothers. It also ends concerns about a line of increasingly frail, aged kings after Salman, who is 80 this year, replaced the 90 year old Abdullah. "We don't want Saudi Arabia to be ruled by one ailing leader after another," said Jamal Khashoggi, general manager of al-Arab television station. The move also solidifies Salman's own branch of the ruling family. Abdullah's only son in a position of significant power now is Prince Miteb, who is head of the national guard and was retained in his post on Wednesday. The new deputy crown prince, who also serves as head of a top committee on economy and development, was replaced as royal court chief on Wednesday by Hamed al-Sweilam, the decree said, possibly to answer critics who said he had too many jobs. (Reporting by Sami Aboudi, Mostafa Hashem, Maha El Dahan and Reem Shamseddine and Henning Gloystein; editing by William Maclean and Philippa Fletcher) Sponsored Links by Taboola From The Web Shantan Wantan Ichiban Takes You to the Real NZ. Watch Now! Contiki NZ Better on the Ground Than in the Air ..! 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In an informal chat with The Express Tribune in Islamabad on Wednesday, the acting Saudi Ambassador Jassim Bin Mohammad Al-Khalidi asked “How would Pakistanis feel if we do the same with you (as Pakistani parliament’s resolution) in the time of crises.” Read: Decisive Storm: Saudi-led coalition calls off Yemen operation While replying to a question on whether Saudi Arabia was disappointed by the resolution adopted by Pakistan’s parliament, Al-Khalidi said that his country still hoping Pakistan would join the alliance, even if only for reconstruction and humanitarian work. This is the first time a Saudi official has publicly voiced his displeasure over Pakistan’s reluctance to commit troops, and military equipment for the Yemen operation. The acting Saudi envoy said that Pakistan’s support was crucial to send a message to the people of Yemen that not only the Arab countries, but the rest of the Muslim world was showing solidarity with Saleh’s legitimate government. Read: Yemen conflict: Is Pakistan neutral no more? Al-Khalidi, however, ruled out the possibility of launching of ground offensive in Yemen. “The situation in Yemen is now under control and most of the objectives have been achieved,” he added. With Saudi Arabia deploying co-opted Yemeni tribes back in their home areas this week, Islamabad can expect to be under a little less pressure on Yemen, meaning the cards it played by staying away from the conflict seem to have worked. Pakistan, while distancing itself from direct involvement in the Yemen conflict, had vowed it would spare no effort to defend Saudi Arabia if its territorial integrity and sovereignty was violated. However, diplomatic sources suggest that Pakistan needs to do more to appease Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom feels let down by Islamabad. Sources revealed that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who led a high-level delegation soon after the Parliamentary resolution to Riyadh, was confronted by Saudi authorities over Pakistan’s reluctance to join the alliance. The Saudis told the Punjab chief minister that they were not expecting the government to take the issue to the Parliament since they needed ‘urgent’ help from Pakistan. The growing unease in Riyadh had prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to lead a powerful delegation comprising of Army chief General Raheel Sharif to Saudi Arabia as part of a damage control exercise. In an interview with a Saudi newspaper, Nawaz had termed his recent tour of Saudi Arabia a success. He said that all issues had been discussed with King Salman in detail, including the Yemen conflict. The premier reiterated Pakistan’s stance on defending Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity at all cost adding that Pakistan would contribute to implement a UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.

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