By Elizabeth Arrott
Saudi Arabian officials have announced the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The brother of King Abdullah was in his mid-80’s, and had been suffering from medical problems for several years. He is believed to have died in a New York hospital, though a statement from the court said simply that he died abroad.
The Saudi monarchy says King Abdullah is mourning the death of his brother and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a key player in Saudi politics.
The death of the planned successor, who served as both defense minister and deputy prime minister, throws into question the future leadership of a country facing simmering unrest at home and challenges from regional rival Iran.
King Abdullah, who is 86, has indicated his preferences, naming interior minister Prince Nayaf as second deputy prime minister in 2009, a traditional post in the chain of succession. The decision will be made by a special council, a change in the succession laws made by the current king.
Abdullah, the late crown prince and Prince Nayaf are all the sons of the founder of the modern Arab nation, Abdul Aziz, known as Ibn Saud.
Prince Nayef is said to have closer ties to Saudi Arabia’s powerful, puritanical clerics than the king, who has ushered in reforms, most recently that women could take part in elections in coming years.
Political observers have expected whoever is chosen would likely continue the close alliance between the oil-rich nation and the United States. That relationship was strengthened during the late crown prince’s nearly 50 year tenure as defense minister, during which the kingdom bought billions of dollars worth of American weapons and other military equipment.
His son, Prince Bandar, served as ambassador to the United States for more than 20 years.
The late Crown Prince had been ill for several years. He went to New York earlier this year for unspecified medical treatment.
Saudi officials say funeral services will be held Tuesday.