Saudi deputy defence minister replaced again

Riyadh (AFP): Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister has been replaced after only four months in the post by a half-brother of powerful intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, in a royal decree. Prince Salman Bin Sultan, son of the late crown prince and veteran defence minister Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz who died in 2011, replaced Prince Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammad who was named deputy defence minister only in April, the official SPA agency reported late Tuesday.

Prince Salman, born in 1976 according to local media, was assistant secretary general of the national security council headed by Prince Bandar, and had worked at the Saudi embassy in Washington. No reason was given for the move, the latest in a reshuffle of princes holding government posts in the country where the monarch’s age and frequent hospitalisation have raised concerns over its future leadership.

Analysts believe Saudi Arabia has regained the initiative from its much smaller neighbour Qatar to re-emerge as the diplomatic kingpin of the Gulf region amid sweeping political turmoil in the Arab world.

Prince Bandar, formerly ambassador to the United States, is widely regarded as among the most influential powerbrokers in the Middle East.

Late in July, he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Few details emerged of the talks which came amid strained relations between Moscow and Riyadh over the conflict in Syria.

Saudi Arabia has been strongly supportive of the rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Al Assad. But Russia, to the fury of Riyadh and its Western allies, has refused to cut its cooperation with the Damascus regime.