(Updates with civil aviation appointment in sixth paragraph.)
Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah named the governor of Riyadh province as the nation’s defense minister, after the death of the crown prince last month triggered a change in leadership.
The new defense minister, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, 76 this year, is the king’s half brother. The appointment was announced yesterday in a royal decree carried by the state- run Saudi Press Agency. It came after Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, 78, was named crown prince following the death of Prince Sultan on Oct. 22.
Salman replaces Sultan, who had been minister of defense and aviation since 1963 and oversaw the expansion and modernization of the Saudi military into a force that participated in the U.S.-led war to oust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. When U.S. Vice President Joe Biden led an American delegation to Riyadh to offer condolences last month, he met with Prince Salman.
“The choice of Prince Salman as defense minister further cements the succession process,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “Salman needs to have a security portfolio under his belt if he is to be in line to become the next crown prince and ultimately a future Saudi king.”
After popular uprisings toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year, leaving leadership uncertainties, Abdullah, 87 this year, has ensured a swift political transition with the appointments of Nayef and Salman.
King Abdullah also named Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz as deputy defense minister. Khalid, 62 this year, is the son of the late Crown Prince Sultan. Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz was named the new governor of Riyadh and Prince Mohammed bin Saad bin Abdulaziz was named the deputy governor. Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammad al Saud was appointed president of the General Committee for Civil Aviation.
Salman is “said to be popular with the younger members of the royal family,” Jane Kinninmont, a Gulf region analyst at Chatham House in London, said in an e-mail. “Obtaining this prestigious position will help cement his base.” He had been the governor of Riyadh province since 1962.
His son Faisal is the chairman of the Riyadh-based Saudi Research and Marketing Group. The group owns the London-based pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and the Jeddah-based Arab News English language paper. Under Salman, Riyadh has grown from a city of about 150,000 people in the 1960s to about 5 million people, according to data on the website of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Salman is one of the so-called Sudairi Seven, sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, and one of his wives, Hussa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi. The seven included former King Fahd, Sultan and Crown Prince Nayef. Fahd died in 2005.
King Abdullah changed the kingdom’s succession rules in 2007 to give an appointed commission of princes, called the Allegiance Council, more power to select a new ruler. Six kings have ruled Saudi Arabia since it was established in 1932.
During the five decades with Sultan as defense minister, Saudi Arabia’s policy involved relying on the U.S. for military protection in return for stable oil supplies. The kingdom spent $11.2 billion on U.S. weapons between 2005 and 2008, making it the biggest foreign buyer of U.S. arms during the period, according to the Congressional Research Service in Washington.
The U.S. Defense Department told Congress in October 2010 that it wanted to sell as much as $60 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, including F-15 fighter jets, attack helicopters, and satellite-guided smart bombs to counter Iranian military ambitions in the Persian Gulf and regional extremists. The weapon sales, if approved, could occur during a 10-year period.
Salman’s “guidance and presence will be a huge plus for the kingdom and its allies as they confront a more aggressive Iran and other threats in the Middle East,” Karasik said.
The U.S. on Oct. 11 said Iranians had plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. A week earlier, the kingdom accused an unidentified foreign country of seeking to undermine Saudi stability after 11 security personnel were injured in an attack in Awwamiya, a Shiite Muslim village in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
“Salman is intelligent and has shown very good skills and dealing with tense situations he has faced,” Paul Sullivan, a political scientist specializing in Middle East security at Georgetown University in Washington, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
--With assistance by Mourad Haroutunian in Riyadh. Editors: Rodney Jefferson, Ann Hughey, Louis Meixler, James Kraus.
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