RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman delivered a brief policy speech on Wednesday, affirming that security and economic development would remain top priorities for his country.
In the televised two-minute speech before the country’s top advisory Shura Council, Salman said Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies are aimed at serving Arab and Islamic causes.
“The kingdom’s foreign policy goes on its fixed principles, its commitment to international agreements, which defends Arab and Islamic causes, aims to fight terrorism and achieve security and stability in the world, seeking to unite ranks to face the risks and challenges that surround the Arab and Islamic societies,” he said.
Formerly Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, Salman has made security his foremost concern since assuming the throne in January after the death of his half-brother King Abdullah. Two months into Salman’s reign, Saudi Arabia launched an offensive in Yemen against Iranian-allied Shiite rebels after the rebels, known as Houthis, overran several key Yemeni cities and forced the internationally-recognized government to flee the country.
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Salman also quickly set a new course for the monarchy’s future by recasting the line of succession. He named his nephew, Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince, and his 30-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, as defense minister and deputy crown prince.
The economy has also become a greater priority as the oil exporter’s revenues take a hit. The price of oil — the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s economy — has fallen by around half since mid-2014. Acknowledging the challenges this poses to Saudi Arabia’s economy, the king said the country’s growth and development have continued “despite international economic fluctuations.”
The king stressed the importance of investments in health care, education, housing, employment, transportation and the economy.
Saudi Arabia is expected to announce its 2016 budget next week, and economists will be looking closely to see if cuts are made and in which sectors, as well as what the deficit for this year’s spending amounts to. The International Monetary Fund estimates Saudi Arabia will post a budget deficit of more than 20 percent of gross domestic product this year, amounting to anywhere between $100 billion to $150 billion.
The king also referred to the importance of Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. Notably absent from his speech was any reference to a stampede and crush of people that took place during the Islamic hajj pilgrimage in September, which led to more than 2,400 deaths according to an Associated Press tally, three times the number of deaths acknowledged by the kingdom as it continues its probe into the deaths.
A more detailed review of King Salman’s foreign and domestic policies was distributed to the national advisory council members, among them 30 women appointed by Salman’s predecessor.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.