Riyadh // Arab and western leaders on Friday paid tribute to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud Al Faisal, the world’s longest-serving foreign minister, following his death at the age of 75.
Prince Saud oversaw four decades of diplomacy before he retired in April for health reasons, and is credited with facing down successive regional crises and forging strong ties with the West.
The prince died on Thursday in the United States and his funeral will be held on Saturday in Mecca, where his brother Prince Khaled is governor, the Saudi royal court said.
The UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and rulers of all the emirates sent their condolences to Saudi King Salman over the death of Prince Saud.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also mourned the death of Prince Saud, saying his former counterpart was one of the rare personalities who had positively contributed to Arab and Islamic history through his energy, political vision and wisdom.
The Gulf Cooperation Council said the death of Prince Saud, who contributed to the founding of the group, was a big loss for Saudi, Gulf and Arab diplomacy.
Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayyeb, the head of Egypt’s Al Azhar, praised the late prince as a “man of peace and a balanced and moderate thinker”, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Top officials in Washington, the kingdom’s longtime ally, said Prince Saud would be missed.
“Generations of American leaders and diplomats benefited from Prince Saud’s thoughtful perspective, charisma and poise, and diplomatic skill,” US president Barack Obama said.
“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 Prince Saud “a man of vast experience, personal warmth, great dignity”.
British prime minister David Cameron said he and others had benefited from the prince’s “great wisdom in international affairs over his long years of service”.
The late prince “worked tirelessly for peace and stability in the Middle East”, said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation said Prince Saud was always in the “front lines defending and promoting Arab and Muslim interests”.
“His wisdom, clear vision, through understanding and full grasp of the issues will be sorely missed,” said the OIC secretary general Iyad Ameen Madani.
Prince Saud 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 launch pad.
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 United States, in which 15 of 19 plane hijackers were Saudi.
Prince 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 Prince 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 Prince Saud’s brothers, Prince Turki, was a longtime intelligence chief who served briefly as ambassador to Washington.
Upon his retirement, Prince Saud was replaced as foreign minister by Washington ambassador Adel Al Jubeir, reflecting a shift to a younger generation of Saudi leaders.
* Agence France-Presse and Wam