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May vows to deliver ‘robust’ message to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing

The Prime Minister is meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Argentina.

Theresa May has promised to deliver a “robust” message to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen when she meets him at the G20 summit.

Friday’s face-to-face meeting with the Crown Prince in Argentina is likely to prove the most difficult encounter of the two-day summit of major economies for the Prime Minister.

The UK has issued demands for a transparent and credible investigation into the death last month of Mr Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and has also called for an end to bloodshed in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels.

Mrs May has faced calls to halt arms sales to the UK’s traditional ally in the Gulf.

Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen said she should use her meeting with the Crown Prince to “politely but firmly insist that only a UN investigation into the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi is going to be sufficient”.

Amnesty also called on the PM to urge Mohammed to order the release of women’s rights activists including Loujain al-Hathloul.

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Theresa May has become the first serving Prime Minister to visit Buenos Aires. (G20 Argentina/PA)

Speaking to Sky News ahead of the meeting, Mrs May said: “I am going to speak to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia but it is the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia that enables me to sit down with him and be robust on our views on two issues.

“First of all the terrible killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the message I will be giving and the message we have given from the UK from the time it happened is that the Saudi Arabians need to ensure that their investigation is a full investigation, that it is credible, that it is transparent and that people can have confidence in the outcome of it and that those responsible are held to account.

“But I will also be raising the situation in the Yemen where the humanitarian crisis is getting worse, we are very concerned about that.

“We are a major donor to the Yemen, but we believe that now is the time, there is an opportunity to find a solution, to come to a political solution because that is the way to ensure the future and a safe and secure future for the people of the Yemen.

“I will be encouraging all parties, including the Saudi Arabians, to ensure that they sit down at the upcoming UN-led talks in Stockholm in the coming days and weeks and find a way through this, find a political solution for a stable future for Yemen.”

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Former PM Tony Blair meets then Argentinian president Fernando De la Rua on Argentinian soil in Iguazu. (Chris Ison/PA)

Before her meeting with the Crown Prince, Mrs May will hold talks with the summit’s host, President Mauricio Macri, at which the long-standing argument over the sovereignty of the Falklands is likely to be overshadowed by discussions on trade.

Mrs May is the first Conservative Prime Minister to visit Argentina since the 1982 war, and only the second serving PM to do so, after Tony Blair briefly crossed the border from Brazil in 2001.

Arriving in Argentina on Thursday night, she vowed to maintain Britain’s defence of the sovereignty of the islands known to Argentina as Las Malvinas.

Mr Macri has toned down official rhetoric over the islands since taking over from Cristina Kirchner in 2015.

This week’s announcement of a new air link between the Falklands and the South American mainland via Argentina has been greeted in London as an indication that relations are headed in a positive direction.

Asked during her flight to Buenos Aires whether the UK remained ready to defend the islands with military force if necessary, Mrs May said: “I am clear that our position on the sovereignty of the Falklands has not changed.

“What has changed in recent months is we have seen better relations with Argentina. I think the announcement we saw earlier this week of the extra flight from the Falklands through to South America is important.

“It is important for the Falklands and it is important in showing a different relationship developing.

“I am talking to President Macri about issues about trade and opportunities for trade, but our position on the sovereignty of the Falklands hasn’t changed and will not change.”

Mrs May is not expected to have bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires, as relations between the UK and Russia remain in the deep-freeze following the Salisbury poisonings and the annexation of Crimea.

Britain has been a keen supporter of sanctions against Moscow for its interference in Ukraine and Mrs May made clear she does not rule out their extension following the seizure of three naval ships and their crews in the Black Sea.

“Our message to Russia is very clear,” she said. “They should release the ships and sailors and de-escalate the situation.

“We have always been at the forefront in Europe of asking for sanctions on Russia in relation to its behaviour. We will continue to push for what we consider to be appropriate sanctions on Russia.”

The PM will use the G20 gathering to push her “global Britain” message, telling fellow leaders that her Brexit deal will be good for the world economy.

After resuming its independent seat on the World Trade Organisation in April next year, the UK will become an active and leading voice in seeking reform of the body to increase transparency and modernise its approach to e-commerce, she will say.

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