London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Dignitaries are gathering in Riyadh today for the funeral of the late Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, as tributes pour in from across the world.
US President Barack Obama paid his respects to the Saudi monarch, praising King Abdullah’s commitment to strong US-Saudi ties, “the closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy,” he said.
“As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” Obama said. “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”
The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a US delegation to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to pay respects to the king’s family.
President Obama visited the King in his desert compound in Saudi Arabia in March 2014. Obama said: “I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship.”
Former US President George H.W. Bush offered his condolences to Saudi Arabia in a statement released by his office: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend and partner King Abdullah. As President, I found His Majesty always to be a wise and reliable ally, helping our nations build on a strategic relationship and enduring friendship dating back to World War II.”
In the UK, British Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to the Saudi monarch, saying he was “deeply saddened” to hear of King Abdullah’s death. “He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”
“I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two Kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world,” he added.
Late King Abdullah visited the UK in 2007, staying at Buckingham Palace as a guest of the Queen. Prince Charles is expected to fly to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects later on Friday.
Several world leaders praised King Abdullah’s efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 2002, Abdullah, then Crown Prince, proposed the Arab Peace Initiative, which was intended to normalize Arab relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967.
Tributes also came from leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with many Arab countries announcing an official three-day mourning period.
In the Sultanate of Oman flags were lowered to half-mast and the official state Oman News Agency reported that Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id, who is currently receiving medical treatment in Germany, had sent a telegram to new Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz expressing his sincere condolences.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said “We mourn the death of one of the most notable leaders of the Arab Nation and Muslim Nation who generously gave a lot to his people and his nation,” according to state media.
While Sheikh Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Qasimi, ruler of the emirate of Sharjah, will be representing Sheikh Khalifa at the funeral of the late Saudi king.
Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani has also traveled to Saudi Arabia today to attend King Abdullah’s funeral in Riyadh.
Jordan and Bahrain both announced a 40-day mourning period following the Saudi monarch’s death. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and other Middle Eastern dignitaries left the Davos World Economic Forum early after receiving news of King Abdullah’s death.
Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa also hailed King Abdullah’s legacy of “landmark achievements.”
“The Kingdom of Bahrain and the Arab and Islamic nations have lost a wise leader who dedicated his life to serving his people, nation, religion and humanity,” a statement issued by Bahrain’s royal court said.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jabir Al-Sabah described King Abdullah as an “outstanding leader.” He said: “With the death of late King Abdullah, the world has lost one of its great men and the Gulf, Arab and Muslim nations have lost an outstanding leader and strong symbol who dedicated his life to serve his country and people and to defend the causes of his country, Arab and Muslim nations.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan postponed a trip to Somalia to attend the funeral which is being held in Riyadh’s Prince Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque on Friday afternoon.
In line with Saudi and Islamic tradition, King Abdullah will be buried in an unmarked grave immediately after Friday prayers.