Saudi king considers reshuffle

CAIRO (AP) — King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as foreign minister, which has been held by Prince Saud Al Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential oil minister, they said.

The reports came amid mounting speculations in the Saudi capital that the king was planning the reshuffle in an attempt to inject new blood into his 20-member Cabinet.

When King Abdullah succeeded his half brother, the late King Fahd in August 2005, he made no changes in the government.

“It is up to the [king] to decide, and no one has the right to talk about that except him,” Crown Prince Sultan was quoted as saying by the Asharq Al Awsat newspaper about the possible Cabinet reshuffle. “What he decides is good for all,” he said, according to the paper, which is owned by the Saudi royal family.

It is rare for a royal family member to even refer to such an issue publicly and was viewed as a significant hint that changes are coming. Diplomats said key members of the royal family have been discussing for some time names of prospective candidates.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

“It is like an open secret, every body knows about it,” said one diplomat in Cairo who is closely watching Saudi affairs.

The diplomats said the changes, which could be announced next month, are expected to include members of the royal family who are either ministers or deputy ministers.

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said Al Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media.

The Saudi independent Internet news service, Elaph, also reported Monday that new ministers would be chosen among members of the Shura Council, an advisory assembly to the government named by the king.

The news service said the veteran Oil Minister Ali Naimi is among those ministers who are expected to leave their post. Naimi, 67, and an oil engineer, has been in his job for more than a decade.

Other ministers who also could be replaced are the culture and information minister, Iyad Madani, and Minister of Education Khalid Al Anqari, Elaph said on its website.

The news of the reshuffle comes a month after the resignation of Prince Turki Al Faisal as Saudi ambassador to the United States. His resignation, after just 15 months as ambassador to Washington, sparked speculations about a power rift within the royal family.

The royal family and government leaders are believed to be deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and Iran’s increasing regional influence.

Some royals favour strong aid to fellow Sunnis in Iraq while others remain more cautious and closer to their traditional ally, the United States.

Saudi Arabia also worries about turmoil in Lebanon and has been said to disagree with the US on how to handle the Palestinian issue. 

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