Collapse of Doha talks highlights the rise of Mohammed bin Salman

Collapse of Doha talks highlights the rise of Mohammed bin Salman

Ali al-Naimi has been the king of oil for more than two decades. Markets rose and tumbled on the Saudi oil minister’s words. The 81-year-old technocrat always carefully chose the words and his timing. His statements were dissected and widely commented on, as were the occasional leaks which reflected his thinking, Financial Times reports.

As part of the sweeping changes in Saudi Arabia since King Salman took over as head of state last year, the words of another official should be taken most seriously: Mohammed bin Salman, the 30-year-old deputy crown prince, favourite son of the king, and decision maker in chief.

For those who had not noticed, the immensely powerful Mohammed bin Salman, as he is referred to by foreigners, likes to talk. And in Saudi tradition, a royal’s word is more important than that of any technocrat, however many years he’s been in the job, and however authoritative he has been until now. Mohammed bin Salman, moreover, is not your typical royal. King Salman, his father, has essentially handed him the economic keys to the kingdom, including oil policy, which had been run until now by oil ministers answering directly to the king.

Had markets listened carefully to Mohammed bin Salman, the collapse of the Doha talks to freeze output would not have come as a surprise. Officials in the oil ministry suggested the meeting would end with a freeze on output even if Iran, which is only now ramping up its oil production after the lifting of sanctions, did not join in. Mohammed bin Salman, however, told Bloomberg last week — in an interview published on Saturday — that there would be no deal unless all major producers, including Iran, were on board. In Tehran, the government has never wavered in its position that it would not join a freeze.