KUWAIT- Kuwait's new Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Sunday met senior U.S., Iranian and Gulf officials who separately paid respects over the death of the Gulf Arab state's former ruler.

Sheikh Nawaf assumed power after the death last Tuesday of his brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad. The late emir balanced ties between larger neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran and kept a strong relationship with the United States, which led a coalition that ended Iraq's 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait.

"He will be remembered as a great man and a special friend to the United States," U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in comments tweeted by the U.S. Embassy during his visit.

Sheikh Nawaf also received Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had lauded the late emir for fostering "moderation and balance", state media said

Sheikh Nawaf, 83, is expected to uphold the OPEC member state's oil and foreign policy, which promoted regional detente.

He has yet to name a crown prince to help to guide state affairs at a time when low oil prices and COVID-19 have hit state finances against the backdrop of continued tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The emir has up to a year to name an heir, but analysts expect a decision in the coming weeks as senior al-Sabah dynasty members jostle for position. Parliament must approve the choice.

"An appointment would end this competition and send a signal of stability," Dr. Mohamed Alfili, a professor of constitutional law at Kuwait University, told Reuters.

Among mooted candidates are Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad, a former defence minister; Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad, a former premier; and Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber, deputy chief of the National Guard.

Another potential contender is Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al-Salem, a former foreign minister and the only candidate under discussion from the less powerful al-Salem family branch.

Kuwaiti sources say Meshal, the eldest among them, appears most likely to be named crown prince. 

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Sheikh Meshal on Saturday to offer his condolences, state media reported.

Kuwait has its closest but most complex relationship with Saudi Arabia, which on Thursday sent an adviser to King Salman, who had surgery in July, to offer condolences. Several Saudi regional governors travelled on Sunday to do the same.

United Arab Emirates' Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai's ruler, was also in Kuwait.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy and Lisa Barrington Writing by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Frances Kerry and David Goodman ) ((ghaida.ghantous@thomsonreuters.com;))