- (Reuters/Andrea Comas)
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia died early Saturday eliciting succession questions in the vital oil-producing country.
Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud passed away in New York City where he came for treatment because it was believed he was suffering from colon cancer.
A burial is scheduled for Tuesday, the Saudi royal court said in a statement.
With Sultan’s death, Prince Nayef, the current interior minister is most likely to succeed Sultan as the next Crown Prince.
A hugely powerful force, the crown prince was in charge of Saudi Arabia’s massive defense spending programs for nearly half a century. He was also one of the “Sudairi Seven”, the alliance of seven full brothers and their descendants within the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan was viewed as the next ruler of the world’s largest oil exporter. However in recent months, his role was muted by his illness and he reportedly spent months at a time outside the country seeking medical treatments.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a U.S. diplomatic cable described Sultan as “for all intents and purposes incapacitated by his illness.”
Prince Sultan’s decline in health followed decades in which he was crucial to Saudi Arabia’s relations with Western countries as the kingdom’s powerful defense and aviation minister, a role he fulfilled since 1962.
As crown minister, Prince Sultan was considered a vital military ally for the West and he executed colossal arms purchases from the U.S., U.K. and France, which turned Saudi Arabia into one of the most influential importers of defense equipment in the world.
Prince Sultan had a leading role in Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq where he led a coalition of about half a million troops from more than 30 countries.
According to CNN, Saleh Al-Namla, a member of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, said the crown prince will be missed.
"Crown Prince Sultan lived his life in service of his country and also serving the Arab people and the people of Saudi Arabia," Al-Namla, said. "He was very much loved by the country."
He was the second of the seven full brothers born to the kingdom’s founder, the former King Abdelaziz al-Saud, known as Ibn Saud. The “Sudairi seven” are looked upon as fearsome leaders in the country, especially among the 45 sons of Ibn Saud. As young men in the 1960s, they were granted top positions.