World leaders and top dignitaries began arriving in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to give their condolences following the death of King Abdullah, who died early on Friday, at age 90, after nearly two decades at the helm.
Despite deep tensions and rivalries between the nations, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was among the first to arrive to the Sunni-ruled kingdom on Saturday, where he was greeted at the airport by the late king’s son, Prince Turki, who is governor of Riyadh. Saudi state TV showed Zarif walking with the prince down a red carpet on the tarmac.
The newly enthroned King Salman is also expected to receive in the coming days US President Barack Obama, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito, Spain’s King Felipe VI, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik, Dutch King Willem-Alexander, and the United Kingdom’s Prince Charles. Morocco’s Prince Moulay Rachid will pay his respects on the behalf of his brother King Mohammed VI.
Talk of Zarif visiting Saudi Arabia last year quickly dissipated after Iran protested comments made by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, in which he called on Tehran to withdraw its “occupying forces” from Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Iran insists it has no combat forces on the ground in any of the three countries, though it says it has sent senior commanders as advisers to Syria and Iraq.
The diplomatic squabble, in many ways, exemplified how Abdullah’s most pressing priority was to confront the Shiite powerhouse across the Gulf. The multiple conflicts across the region deepened Sunni-Shiite hatreds and fuelled militancy during his reign.
The king, who ascended to the throne in 2005 but had been de-facto ruler for a decade before that, was buried on Friday afternoon, in an unmarked grave after a prayer service in the capital Riyadh. The Muslim-only funeral was attended by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and the rulers of Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Heads of state and royals from around world will be visiting Saudi Arabia over the coming days to pay their respects in meetings with Saudi royals. The visits are taking place in the king’s dewaniya in Riyadh, a traditional Arab reception area.
Delegations from China and South Korea, as well as prime ministers and senior politicians from Europe, Asia and elsewhere were expected in Saudi Arabia.