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Former Saudi foreign minister dies at 75

Saud al-Faisal was the world's longest serving foreign minister before being replaced in April this year
Prince Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (R), Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Former Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal died on Thursday, two Saudi sources said, two months after he was replaced following 40 years in the job.

Prince Saud, who was appointed in 1975, was the world's longest serving foreign minister when he was replaced on 29 April by Adel al-Jubeir, the then ambassador to Washington.

Born in Taif, near Mecca in 1940, Prince Saud was the second son of King Faisal, the oil kingdom’s second monarch. He achieved his university degree at Princeton in the United States before working in the Petroleum Ministry.

The prince played a pivotal role in shaping the politics of the Middle East in the last few decades, where his influence presided over finding an end to Lebanon’s civil war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the two Palestinian intifadas, and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Prince Saud also advocated for arming rebel fighters in Syria, which he said in 2012 was “an excellent idea”.

His retirement came at a time when the region is suffering from tumultuous throes. The rise of militant groups and dire humanitarian disasters in Syria and Yemen, as well as Egypt’s volatility - once considered a stable ally - has left the region mired in instability and chaos. Furthermore, he navigated the rocky alliance with the United States as the latter pursued negotiations with Iran, his arch rival.

Fluent in seven languages, Prince Saud’s role in diplomacy was characterised by shrewdness of character, forming alliances, and acting as an intermediary. He hosted the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas in 2006 in a bid to form a unity government, a matter that is still elusive almost a decade later.

In 2002, the prince- a close confidant to then King Abdullah- pushed for what has been dubbed as the king’s biggest foreign policy initiative: the Arab plan for peace with Israel, in return for a withdrawal from all occupied land.

Israel never accepted the plan, and Prince Saud often cited that the lack of forming a Palestinian state as the biggest disappointment in his career.

Prince Saud suffered from Parkinson’s disease, yet despite his slurred speech in the last years of his life, he still maintained clarity. His chronic back pain led him to have a surgery in January this year.

He is survived by his wife and six children.

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