British Prime Minister David Cameron has called on the king of Saudi Arabia to step up his country's oil production in the face of Iranian threats to block off the sea corridor through which one sixth of the world's oil supplies pass.
In private talks with King Abdullah during an official visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday, Mr Cameron expressed Britain's fears that a blockade could destabilise the world economy.
Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf with international ports, if the EU imposes sanctions on its crude exports. About 15.5 million barrels of oil pass through the strait every day.
Saudi oil would continue to flow through the kingdom's East-West Pipeline, which can carry as much as five million barrels a day. Mr Cameron is thought to have asked that Saudi Arabia increase production regardless of any blockade, to guarantee oil supplies to countries which rely on Iranian oil.
Some of the most economically vulnerable EU countries, including Greece, Spain and Italy, are among the largest importers of Iranian oil and this has delayed the imposition of sanctions.
Mr Cameron said: "It is in the interests of the whole world that those straits are open and, if there was any threat to close them, I am sure the whole world would come together and make sure they stayed open."
The leaders also discussed the situation in Syria, and Mr Cameron indicated Britain would be prepared to lead UN action against the country -- in the face of Russian opposition.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets yesterday in eastern Saudi Arabia after a Shia youth was killed in a clash with security forces. Despite calls for Mr Cameron to be "completely frank and firm" about human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia, he is believed to be more concerned about securing Saudi support for sanctions.
He is also keen to boost trade. Saudi Arabia is Britain's biggest trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade worth £15bn a year.
(© Independent News Service)