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The Legacy of King Fahd


The rule of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd will be remembered as an era of transformation in which the oil-rich kingdom became a modern and economically powerful nation. VOA's Jim Bertel reports the King's close ties to the United States may also have contributed to a rise in Islamic extremism and terrorism.

King Fahd ruled Saudi Arabia for 23 years and helped complete the transformation of the Kingdom into a global economic power. His close ties with Western leaders and his nation's vast oil wealth made him one of the region's most influential leaders.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Mack, says the former Saudi leader will be remembered as an important friend of the United States who provided valuable help in fighting Iraq and the search for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. "He was a key ally of the United States in the liberation of Kuwait in the 1990 - 1991 crisis. He was a key ally of the United States in moving forward the peace process in 1990 and 1991. And he has always favored a close relationship between Saudi Arabia and major international oil companies, including American oil companies."

Those close ties with the United States angered many in Saudi Arabia and led to terror attacks against U.S. installations there. King Fahd's debilitating stroke in 1995 confined him mainly to a figurehead role in the kingdom.

The new monarch, former Crown Prince Abdullah, has been Saudi Arabia's de facto leader since then and has led the country's battle against Islamic extremism. He also played an active role in implementing the nation's foreign and domestic policies.

Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom Prince Turki al-Faisal said this will make for a smooth transition. "So I can't imagine there will be any particular change in policies, but rather a continuation of the policies taken by the late King Fahd."

Ambassador Mack agrees, adding that he expects to see the pace of recent reforms in Saudi Arabia accelerated, "Crown Prince Abdullah is going to move forward in a more assertive way with internal reforms such as empowerment of women, such as progress towards some kind of elected political institutions, major economic and legal reforms, reforms of the educational system."

In a written statement Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "deeply saddened" by King Fahd's death and "looks forward to continuing the close partnership between" the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.