As Saudi crown prince buried in Riyadh, U.S. delegation asked to pay respects Thursday

Laura Rozen
October 25, 2011

Saudi Arabia's long-time defense minister, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, was buried in the Saudi capital Riyadh Tuesday. The crown prince, who had been first in line for the Saudi throne, died in the United States on Saturday. Among the Muslim world leaders attending the ceremony were the Syrian vice president, Sudanese President Bashir, and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi--but the United States delegation to Saudi Arabia was not on hand, due to Saudi observations of Muslim burial rites.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead the American delegation to pay respects to its late Persian Gulf ally on Thursday, U.S. officials told Yahoo News Tuesday.

"Non-Muslims [are] invited later at specific times," a U.S. official told Yahoo News Tuesday on condition of anonymity. The "Saudis said come Thursday," he said, adding that the scheduling was "not our decision." The scheduling is evidently in line with Saudi observance of Muslim tradition. "There's an official mourning period when people can pay respects," a second U.S. administration official said. Biden's visit Thursday falls in the official three-day official mourning period.

Biden's delegation will include CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, Centcom commander Gen. James Mattis, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, U.S. Ambassador to the kingdom James B. Smith, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the White House announced Tuesday.

Sultan, 80, was the half brother of Saudi King Abdullah bin Aziz. He had been "in the U.S. for medical tests when he died Saturday," reportedly at New York Presbyterian hospital, the Los Angeles Times' Ann Simmons wrote Tuesday. "The nature of his illness was never officially acknowledged."

Sultan had served for five decades as defense chief of the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchy. With Saudi King Abdullah himself in his 90s and reported to be also suffering from various medical problems, Sultan's death "will require a new heir to be named," Simmons wrote. Most likely, that will be Sultan's full brother, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, who is 76, and considered to be more conservative than his brothers.

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