by WorldTribune Staff, June 22, 2017
In elevating his son Prince Mohammed to next in line to the throne, Saudi King Salman approved a strategic realignment with the U.S. under Donald Trump and handed sweeping new powers to the 31-year-old who has been highly critical of regional rival Iran.
The decision by King Salman to promote his son to crown prince and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family, Reuters reported on June 21.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who last month made Saudi Arabia his first foreign stop since his election, telephoned Prince Mohammed to congratulate him on his promotion.
“The two leaders discussed the priority of cutting off all support for terrorists and extremists, as well as how to resolve the ongoing dispute with Qatar,” the White House said in a statement, adding they also discussed efforts to achieve a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In a May interview with Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), Prince Mohammed ruled out rapprochement with Iran, saying Teheran’s ultimate aim is to wrest control of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.
“How do you have a dialogue with a regime built on an extremist ideology … which [says] they must control the land of Muslims and spread their Twelver Jaafari sect in the Muslim world?,” Prince Mohammed said.
“We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia,” he told MBC. “Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
Iran’s leadership, which called Prince Mohammed’s promotion a “soft coup,” was critical of comments the prince made last month, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeling Saudi leaders as “idiots.”
Analysts say Mohammed’s promotion is likely to make Saudi Arabia more hawkish against Iran and other Gulf rivals such as Qatar.
“Under his watch, Saudi Arabia has developed aggressive foreign policies (Yemen, Qatar) and he has not been shy about making strong statements against Iran,” said Olivier Jakob at Switzerland-based oil consultancy Petromatrix. “It is not really a question of if, but rather of when, a new escalation with Iran starts.”
Mohammed replaces his cousin, 57-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a veteran security chief who led the Saudi campaign against Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaida.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani congratulated Prince Mohammed, in a conciliatory gesture to Riyadh after it joined other Arab states in imposing sanctions on Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism.
“His Highness (Sheikh Tamim) wished him success … for the good of the kingdom under the wise leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” Sheikh Tamim said in a message to Prince Mohammed, Qatar state news agency QNA reported.