RIYADH: Tributes flowed Friday following the death of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud al-Faisal, the world’s longest-serving foreign minister, credited with facing down successive regional crises and forging strong ties with the West.
Prince Saud oversaw four decades of diplomacy for the world’s biggest oil exporter before he retired in April for health reasons.
A statement from the Royal Court just before midnight said the prince, who was born in 1940 and became one of the highest profile members of the kingdom’s ruling elite, died Thursday in the United States. It did not give a cause of death.
The funeral will be held on Saturday in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where his brother Prince Khaled is governor, the Royal Court said.
Top officials in the kingdom’s longtime ally Washington said Saud would be missed.
“Generations of American leaders and diplomats benefited from Prince Saud’s thoughtful perspective, charisma and poise, and diplomatic skill,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“He was committed to the importance of the US-Saudi relationship and the pursuit of stability and security in the Middle East and beyond, and his legacy will be remembered around the world.”
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, called Saud “a man of vast experience, personal warmth, great dignity”.
The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Friday reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called King Salman “expressing sorrow” at Saud’s death.
Citing statements from Saud’s counterparts in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, as well as Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the agency said officials paid tribute to a “man of peace, (a) balanced and moderate thinker.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he and others had benefited from Saud’s “great wisdom in international affairs over his long years of service”.
Saud “worked tirelessly for peace and stability in the Middle East”, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
The goateed prince oversaw Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a major diplomatic player, and had to deal with regional turmoil including civil war in Lebanon, and the 1991 Gulf War in which US-led forces used Saudi Arabia as a launchpad.
He maintained a focus on relations with the West, but ties with Washington were sometimes strained, including after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, in which 15 of 19 plane hijackers were Saudi.
Saud served under four monarchs, and took his final oath of office in March after King Salman acceded to the throne following the death of king Abdullah, when Saud was in the US for back surgery.
His back troubles forced him to drop his hobbies of driving cars and taking desert trips.
He was first named top diplomat in October 1975, seven months after his father, King Faisal, was assassinated by a nephew.
Another of Saud’s brothers, Prince Turki, was a longtime intelligence chief who served briefly as ambassador to Washington.
Upon his retirement, Saud was replaced as foreign minister by Washington ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, reflecting a shift to a younger generation of Saudi leaders.