Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, one of the Middle East’s longest serving rulers who modernized his country and maintained neutrality in regional conflicts, died on Friday.
State media announced three days of mourning and said his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al-Said was named as successor.
Sultan Qaboos, 79, came to power in 1970 with a coup supported by former colonial power Britain. Iran’s Mohammad Reza Shah also backed Qaboos in his civil war against leftist rebels.
His successor Haitham al-Tariq was appointed Saturday by a council of the ruling family, since Sultan Qaboos had no children. The new ruler served as minister of national heritage and culture and had been appointed in 2013 by Qaboos to chair the main committee responsible for Oman's development.
He takes power as domestic challenges loom large, from strained state finances to high unemployment in the indebted oil producer, and at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the United States and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.
Sultan Qaboos had played a crucial mediating role between Iran and the United States a in 2012-2013, when quiet diplomacy led to talks to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. The talks led to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Oman has long been to the Middle East what neutral Switzerland is to global diplomacy, balancing ties between two stronger neighbors locked in a regional struggle, Saudi Arabia to the west and Iran to the north. It also maintains good ties with the United States.
In recent months, Oman has continued to mediate between Tehran and Washington.
With reporting by Reuters