Prince Saud al Faisal, who has died aged 75, was the world’s longest-serving foreign minister, holding his position for 40 years, and through four successive kings – from 1975 until his retirement for health reasons this April – during this same period the United States had a total of 13 secretaries of state.
Prince Saud was universally well regarded throughout the international community and the Saudi royal family, he was a towering intellect as well as being gifted with extraordinary diplomatic skills – a lightness of touch not often found within the members of the Saudi royal family.
The Prince worked with four Saudi kings – Khalid, Fahd, Abdullah and Salman – helping the KSA hold its influence through many a rough time in the Middle East .
Throughout the eight-year Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s he supported Saddam Hussein against Iran’s attempt to over-run the region and expand their shiite hegemony. But in 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait he was one of the first to condemn the Iraqi leader.
The even-handed Prince was opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and with a clairvoyant foresight warned: “That the Iraqi forces will be defeated is a foregone conclusion, but the important thing is what are you going to do after the victory?”
When it became apparent that President Bush would not heed his advice, Prince Saud recommended that the US should pay Saddam’s army three months wages to buy their loyalty – Bush ignored the advice and went ahead with the invasion, in what turn out to be a move that would create a maelstrom of chaos, instability and extremism in the region.
Prince Saud showed great wisdom in even holding out the olive branch to Iran, inviting their foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Riyadh ahead of important talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in Vienna.
Prince Saud was born on January 2 1940 in the city of Ta’if, close to Mecca, he was the third son of the then Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal, who would become Saudi Arabia’s third king in 1964. His mother was Iffat Mounira Al Thunayan, the most prominent of Faisal’s four wives.
After a traditional education in Saudi Arabia, he took a degree in Economics at Princeton University in the mid-1960s. He began his career at the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum, rising to become deputy minister under Sheikh Yamani. He was appointed foreign minister by the new King Khaled in 1975 after his father, who had been his own foreign minister, was assassinated by a nephew.
The Prince made one of his last public appearances before the the Shura Council, during the commencement of Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthi Rebels: “We are not warmongers,” he declared. “But if the drums of war begin beating then we are ready for it.”
Prince Saud al Faisal, born January 2 1940, died July 9 2015