Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

PM vows to strengthen Saudi ties

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah meets David Cameron in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah meets David Cameron in Riyadh

David Cameron has agreed to "strengthen co-operation" with Saudi Arabia despite concerns about the country's human rights record and criticism of British arms sales to the desert kingdom.

The Prime Minister held talks with King Abdullah during a one-day visit to Riyadh designed to deepen ties with the oil-rich nation, a crucial trading partner for the UK in the Middle East.

The Government sees strong relations with the Saudis as vital to advancing Britain's interests in the region on a range of issues including energy security, counter-terrorism and political reform.

Saudi Arabia is Britain's biggest trading partner in the Middle East with bilateral trade worth £15 billion a year and Saudi investment in the UK worth more than £62 billion. It is reported that negotiations are under way on the Saudi purchase of 48 Typhoon Eurofighter aircraft.

But Mr Cameron's first visit to the nation since becoming premier came as the Committees on Arms Export Controls published details of questions raised with the Government over the licensing for a range of equipment.

Export permission was granted for bomb equipment, components for military combat vehicles and helicopters, weapon sights and communications technology. MPs questioned why, given the unrest in Saudi Arabia early last year, licences had not been revoked as part of the Government's review of arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa.

Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood, co-chair of his party's Parliamentary Party Committee on International Affairs, said: "Liberal Democrats are very worried about the Saudi kingdom's terrible record on human rights including those of women, religious minorities, foreign workers and political opponents of the regime.

"The coalition Government did the right thing to champion Arab democracy throughout the Arab Spring and we must not send out mixed messages now."

Amnesty International also called on Mr Cameron to be "completely frank and firm" with King Abdullah about Saudi's "shocking disrespect for basic human rights".

Asked whether the Prime Minister had raised criticism of Saudi's human rights record, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We have a full and wide ranging discussion with Saudi on these issues." She stressed that Saudi had "made some progress" on human rights recently, such as women standing for elections.

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