Members of the Supreme Council of Senior Islamic clerics were the first to file by Abdullah in a Riyadh palace, shake his hand and pronounce their allegiance to him as Saudi Arabia's sixth king.
The House of Saud has depended on the support of clerics from the kingdom's strict Wahhabi version of Islam ever since Abdullah's father, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, welded the Arabian peninsula tribes into a nation under his name in 1932.
Vice President Dick Cheney was headed to the kingdom, a close U.S. ally, and was expected to meet Abdullah later Wednesday. The White House said Former President George H.W. Bush and Former Secretary of State Colin Powell would also represent the U.S. delegation.
Abdullah, the de facto ruler over the past decade during Fahd's illness, has worked to seal a bond with President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks strained U.S.-Saudi ties. He has cracked down on al Qaeda-linked militants in the last two years and begun initial steps of democratic reform.
Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he expected U.S.-Saudi relations would continue to improve and vowed a "total war" on terrorism.
"We stand firmly against (terrorism) not only militarily with security forces, but also with an ideological plan dealing with the causes and roots of those who joined the evil-doers," al-Faisal told reporters. Quoting Abdullah on terrorism, he said, "This disease must be rooted from the body of the politics of Saudi Arabia."
A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said, "Right now, our main focus is on continuing the good work that we've done with the Saudi government and moving forward in our relationship under Saudi's new leadership."
In an interview with CBS News, Mideast expert Jonathan S. Paris predicted that
Abdullah is believed to have met some resistance in both reform and the fight against militants from hard-liners in the Islamic clergy and their allies in the royal family, though such internal squabbles are kept strictly behind the scenes.
So far reform steps have been severely limited, centered on the kingdom's first election, held this year to pick local councils. But Abdullah faces pressure to allow a wider number of Saudis a say in governance.
Holding the full power of the throne will likely boost Abdullah in pushing through his plans. He may also be helped by money: The kingdom's coffers are overflowing with oil profits amid rising prices, spiking to around $61 on news of Fahd's death. After years of deficits due to low oil prices, Abdullah now has cash to please disgruntled members of the royal family.
Hundreds of tribal chiefs, religious clerics, government officials and uniformed senior armed forces officers waited in the big hall of the palace, covered with silk carpets, for their turn to honor Abdullah. A palace servant swung an incense burner among them to bless the gathering.
In the ceremony, known as "bayah," each one shakes Abdullah's hand and pronounces, "I express my allegiance to you. I hear and obey, except in what would disobey God." It has its roots in the succession after the death of Islam's prophet Muhammed in the 7th century, when the caliphs that followed him received the support of the Muslim community personally.
Security was tight, with armed agents wandering the hall, wearing traditional white robes and red headdresses, toting automatic weapons and loops of ammunition.
Before the ceremony, Abdullah received Britain's Prince Charles and other Western dignitaries. Abdullah, dressed in white robes and headdress and cream-colored cloak, sat chatting with Charles, who expressed his condolences for the death of King Fahd and his congratulations for Abdullah's ascension to the throne. Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, sat nearby translating.
The Saudi monarch also met Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, the Swiss president and other Western dignitaries, who had been unable to attend funeral ceremonies a day earlier for Fahd, which were closed to non-Muslims.