x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

US pays tribute to Crown Prince Nayef

A White House statement said Crown Prince Nayef had "strongly supported the broader partnership" between the US and Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON // With the passing of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the US will, for the second time in less than a year, look to signs that the world's biggest oil producer - and one of its most important allies - once again will manage a smooth transition.

Barack Obama, the US president, sent his "deepest condolences". A White House statement said Crown Prince Nayef had "strongly supported the broader partnership between our two countries." Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she was "deeply saddened" over the loss of a "dedicated and courageous leader" who "devoted his life to the security of Saudi Arabia and its fight against extremism".

Prince Nayef, 78, died in Geneva yesterday, according to Saudi state TV, only eight months after becoming crown prince following the death of his brother.

His death is not expected to cause any significant changes in Saudi Arabia where an Allegiance Council, a council of family members, will deliberate over who will next be appointed as heir to the throne of King Abdullah, 88.

Although any sudden change in Saudi Arabia will be watched carefully in the US, there is, at least for now, little concern in Washington over the question of succession, said analysts.

The five successions since the death of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who founded Saudi Arabia, have all gone to his sons. Both Nayef and Sultan were sons of Abdel Aziz and the next crown prince would likely also number among those ranks.

But the surviving sons are ageing. The bigger change will come, perhaps "sooner rather than later", said Roby Barrett, a Gulf specialist with the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, when successions move to the grandsons.

"I don't see any issues at this point. The longer-term concern is how the transition is managed from the sons to the grandsons. That will be a shift. And [Nayef's death] underscores the fact that they may have to think about that transition in five years time, sooner rather than later."

Prince Nayef was at times a controversial figure in America. He was seen as a staunch conservative who was close to Saudi Arabia's religious establishment. A "firm authoritarian", his "worldview is coloured by deep suspicion of Iran", read a 2009 US Embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010. But he was the first Saudi official to officially acknowledge that a majority of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi, and though he caused controversy with a subsequent assertion that Jews were behind the 2001 attacks, he spearheaded the crackdown in Saudi Arabia on Al Qaeda that all but eviscerated the group in the kingdom. He also took a lead in fighting the group in Yemen.

It was a role that was deeply appreciated in Washington and reflected in President Obama's statement yesterday.

Under Crown Prince Nayef, Mr Obama said, "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".