Prince Saud’s 39 years of astute foreign diplomacy

Prince Saud Al-Faisal

Prince Saud Al-Faisal may now be known as the world’s longest-serving foreign minister having stepped down on Wednesday after 39 years, but he had also developed a reputation as a formidable intellect and astute diplomat on the world stage.

Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, who will take over the portfolio after Prince Saud relinquished it for health reasons, certainly has huge shoes to fill.

Looking back, Prince Saud had put in decades of work on the Palestine-Israel issue, helped the Kingdom weather the Cold War and other major regional conflicts, and taken the Kingdom’s message of peace across the length and breadth of the planet.

Born in 1940 in the mountain city of Taif, Prince Saud was imbued with an intense desire for knowledge. This led him to Princeton University in the United States, where he earned a degree in economics and became a member of the exclusive Ivy Club.

Initially, his expertise in economics was put to good use in 1964 when he became a consultant to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and a member of its High Coordination Committee. In 1970, he was appointed deputy governor of the General Organization for Petroleum and Mineral Resources (Petromin). In 1971, he was named Deputy Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, a post he kept until King Khaled asked him to become minister of foreign affairs in October 1975.

When he took up the post, the consequences of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War resonated strongly through the Middle East. He then highlighted the Kingdom’s concern over the plight of the Palestinian people. “Israeli occupation of Arab land continues to transform the whole region into multiple crisis zones accompanied by the dramatic suffering of Palestinians causing the spread of despair and extremism,” he told the UN General Assembly in a speech in 2008.

A frequent visitor to New York, the prince was grieved to hear of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, even more so when he learned about the number of Saudis involved. “You must understand how shocking it was for Saudi Arabia to have heard the news that 15 Saudis were part of that,” the prince said. He also let the world know about the distinction Saudis draw between the true Islam and the murderous acts perpetrated by Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia’s neighbor to the north had created a variety of challenges for the ministry for some time. Harmonious relations came crashing down when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, seizing the country and sending many Kuwaitis fleeing to seek safe haven in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom became a vital member of the coalition of nations that was formed to oust Saddam Hussein.

He had also been a key figure in talks that would ensure the union of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and for the six member states to devise meaningful economic reforms. “We in the region fully recognize the urgent need for comprehensive reforms in our countries with some variation in the speed of implementation depending on the individual social conditions,” he told a forum in December 2004 in Manama, Bahrain.


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