Saudi crown prince’s visit to UK ushers in new ‘strategic partnership’
LONDON - In a trip motivated by political and economic considerations, Saudi Arabia’s reform-driven Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz concluded a state visit to the United Kingdom.
In London to solidify long-standing relations as well as to promote his Vision 2030 reform programme, Crown Prince Mohammed’s itinerary included meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Defence Minister Gavin Williamson and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
“We believe that Saudi Arabia needs to be part of the global economy,” Crown Prince Mohammed said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “People need to be able to move freely and we need to apply the same standards as the rest of the world. After Brexit there will be huge opportunities for Britain as a result of Vision 2030.”
The visit included the inaugural meeting of the UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council. The council is to meet on an annual basis to discuss matters pertaining to security and joint economic endeavours.
“The meeting agreed a landmark ambition for around [$90.3 billion] of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the UK and new Saudi public procurement with UK companies,” the British prime minister’s office said in a statement.
“This is a significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy as we prepare to leave the European Union.”
“The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia committed to a long-term partnership to support implementation of Vision 2030″ in various areas, a joint statement released March 9 said. The countries “reiterated the importance of the defence and security relationship for mutual security and regional stability.”
While confirming the importance of a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, the statement called for an end to security threats to Saudi Arabia and a halt “to the Iranian support for militias and a withdrawal of Iranian elements and Hezbollah from Yemen.”
Factoring into discussions with British officials was Saudi Aramco, which the United Kingdom hopes is working to have its initial public offering (IPO) listed on the London Stock Exchange. However, it has competition from New York.
“We would like the Aramco share option to be issued in the United Kingdom and we will continue to suggest the city would be the best place for it,” junior foreign office minister Alistair Burt told parliament.
It is unclear when Saudi officials will make their choice; however, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih hinted in an interview with Bloomberg News that the IPO listing, which was initially scheduled for 2017, might be postponed.
“Between December 31 and January 1 there is no value lost for the kingdom,” Falih said.
After a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed, who serves as Saudi defence minister, and Williamson, BAE Systems announced that Riyadh had signed a preliminary agreement to purchase 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.
“This is a positive step towards agreeing a contract for our valued partner,” BAE said in a release. “We are committed to supporting the kingdom as it modernises the Saudi Armed Forces and develops key industrial capabilities.”
Religious tolerance was also on the agenda. Welby, who met with Crown Prince Mohammed, said: “The crown prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions and to interfaith dialogue within the kingdom and beyond.”
Crown Prince Mohammed is on an ambitious international tour. Besides Egypt and the United Kingdom, he is to visit New York and Washington later this month.