Defense minister named new crown prince, heir to Saudi Arabian throne

By Abdullah Al-Shihri and Brian Murphy, AP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia–Saudi Arabia kept power within the surviving, aging sons of the kingdom’s founding patriarch Monday by naming Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz as the new heir to the throne in a country both battling and embracing the upheavals across the Middle East.

The choice was expected, but the speed of the royal decree was not — just a day after the burial of the late crown prince, Prince Nayef, who died last week in Geneva and was in the No. 2 position only since November.

Prince Salman, 76, is now the third successor for the 88-year-old King Abdullah in the past year.

It reflects the issues of health and age that will one day turn control of OPEC’s top oil exporter over to a younger generation. Yet it also displays the preference for cautious steps by ruling House of Saud, which must balance its role as one of the West’s main Middle East allies with its need to appease the ultraconservative religious establishment that gives the monarchy its legitimacy in the land of Islam’s holiest sites.

In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a statement praising Salman as “a man of deep faith who is committed to improving the lives of the people of Saudi Arabia and to the security of the region.” Obama wrote, “The United States looks forward to continuing our strong relationship with Crown Prince Salman in his new capacity as we deepen the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”