November 23, 2008 / 3:59 PM / 10 years ago

Saudi crown prince leaves for U.S. op, source says

RIYADH (Reuters) - Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz left Saudi Arabia for the United States on Sunday to undergo an operation for cancer, a source close to the prince said.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud (R) is greeted by top Saudi officials at Jeddah airport before his departure to the United States, November 23, 2008. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout

The Saudi Press Agency said the prince, thought to be in his early 80s, is visiting the United States for “some medical tests” but gave no details.

The source close to the prince did not say what kind of cancer the prince was suffering from, how serious his condition was or in what city the operation would take place.

The prince had an intestinal cyst removed in Saudi Arabia in 2005 and diplomats say he is in weaker health than his half-brother King Abdullah, who is around 85.

SPA listed the names of 33 Saudi princes who were at Jeddah airport to see him off as well as the entire cabinet. He will be accompanied by his full-brother Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh who is seen as a strong contender to rule one day.

The crown prince visited Geneva in Switzerland in April for what was described as “regular medical tests”, leading to speculation that his health was poor and concerns over the succession.

King Abdullah has set up an “allegiance council” of sons and grandsons of the kingdom’s founder to vote on future kings. The untimely death of Sultan could bring it into operation earlier than planned and spark a succession battle.

Stability in Saudi Arabia is of global concern because the Islamic state, which does not have an elected parliament, is the world’s largest oil exporter and a traditional lynchpin of U.S. power in the Middle East.

Islamists linked to al Qaeda launched a failed campaign of violence to destabilise the ruling family from 2003 to 2006.

Sultan has appeared regularly in state media since his Swiss sojourn earlier this year looking healthy and active. He has visited Morocco for a holiday and hosted cabinet meetings.

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