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Saudi succession shakeup good news for the U.S.

News of a shakeup in Saudi Arabia's line of succession is good news for the United States, which has close ties with both the new crown prince and foreign minister.

Early Wednesday morning Saudi King Salman removed his half brother, Prince Muqrin, from the position of crown prince and appointed his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef to the post. Additionally the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, will be recalled from his post in Washington to replace the ailing Prince Saud as foreign minister.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son and Saudi Arabia's defense minister, was also appointed deputy crown prince.

"This change, though anticipated at some point, wasn't anticipated, I think, this quickly and certainly not at a moment where Saudi Arabia finds itself fighting a war on its doorstep in Yemen and this proxy battle against Iran more broadly," said CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate.

Saudi Arabia had faced a longstanding question of what will happen after the current generation of leadership dies. Now, Zarate said, King Salman has demonstrated "a pretty bold move...to answer the question of generational succession."

"What you have is not just a move to a new generation but a move to key individuals who have deep relationships with the west and the United States. That's good news for the U.S. and it's good news for the stability of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia," Zarate said.

Bin Nayef is well known to many American officials, having forged connections abroad in his role as the country's chief counterterrorism official. He survived a 2009 assassination attempt by al Qaeda, one of several that have been made against him. He is now also the most likely successor to King Salman, who assumed the throne earlier this year following the death of King Abdullah.

He has spent time in the U.S., where he holds degrees from the University of North Texas and Georgetown University (he later took courses at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon but did not actually receive a degree) in the late 1970s. He also did coursework with the FBI in the mid-1980s and studied with Scotland Yard as well.

Al-Jubeir, similarly, has developed strong ties to American officials through his role as ambassador. In late March, he appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" to talk about Saudi Arabia's military campaign in Yemen.

"The objective is to protect the people of Yemen from a radical organization that has allied with Iran and Hezbollah that has virtually taken over the country. It's to defend the legitimate government of Yemen. And it's to open up the way for political talks, so that Yemen can complete its transition period and move towards a better place," he said.

Al-Jubeir himself was targeted for assassination in 2011. The U.S. charged two people, including a member of Iran's special operations unit known as the Quds Force, with conspiring with a purported Mexican drug cartel to assassinate him in the U.S. using a bomb.

"We have been doing a lot of very complicated important things together for a very long time, and we built a relationship of trust," Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CBS News. "They're both very smart guys, and they speak with authority and they do important things and they've delivered for the United States government and for the relationship time and time again."

The changes in succession come at a time when Saudi Arabia is taking on more of a leadership role in the region on issues. They led the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, all fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in a bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had deposed Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and Saudi Arabia's intervention was intended to counter Iran's influence in the country.

"The Saudis are smart and they are realistic, and they realize that the U.S. commitment to their security may not be as complete as they would like," Zarate said. "That has meant that the Saudis as well as the Egyptians and the Emiratis have taken a more independent stance and have realized that they're going to have to take on certain fights on their own whether they're ideological, political, diplomatic or on the battlefield."

"In some ways this is a new reality with countries like Saudi Arabia realizing they're going to have to take ownership of some of these problems on their own, whether its counterterrorism, the Iranians or the ideological fight against the Muslim Brotherhood. They can't wait for the U.S," Zarate added.

The U.S. has been pushing the Saudis to move beyond the bombing campaign in order to begin work on a political solution to the Yemen conflict, but the strikes were restarted not long after the Saudis declared the original operation over.

Alterman said "it's not clear" whether the changes will affect the conflict since it has been largely driven by Bin Salman, the defense minister.

He also said one longer-term issue that will reveal the effects of the shake-up in the royal court is whether a rivalry emerges among Bin Salman and Bin Nayef.

"Does the family stay completely unified?" he said. "Those are things which we have some precedent for but how it turns out in this case is going to be very, very important."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.