|Prince Salman has served as governor of Riyadh since 1962 [EPA]
Saudi Arabia's Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was named the kingdom's new defence minister in a royal decree read on state television.
The appointment of Prince Salman, 76, on Saturday follows the death last month of his elder brother Crown Prince Sultan, who had held the position for five decades.
Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh province for nearly 50 years, now controls the top-spending ministry in Saudi Arabia, which has long used arms purchases to turn its military into one of the best equipped in the Middle East and to bolster ties with Western allies such as the United States, Britain and France.
He is one of the most senior members of the al-Saud ruling family which founded and still dominates the desert kingdom in alliance with conservative religious clerics.
In a royal family that bases its right to rule on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Prince Salman is reputed to be devout and relatively outward-looking.
"He's intelligent, political, in touch with the conservative base, but also quite modern-minded," said a former diplomat in Riyadh interviewed by Reuters about the kingdom's succession process.
Since 1962, Salman has served as governor of Riyadh, and has more to do with foreign governments than many senior royals.
In a meeting with the US ambassador in March 2007, described in a cable released by WikiLeaks, Salman said the
social and cultural reforms instigated by King Abdullah had to move slowly for fear of a conservative backlash.
He also argued against the introduction of democracy in the kingdom, citing regional and tribal divisions, and told the
ambassador that a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was necessary for Middle East stability.
The previous defence minister, Prince Sultan, was also first in line of succession to become king of Saudi Arabia. Following his death last month, veteran interior minister Prince Nayef became crown prince in a choice that illustrated King Abdullah's concern for continuity and stability in the world's top oil exporter.