British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Saudi Arabia to cement ties
Hammond has arrived in Riyadh in the backdrop of cancelling a controversial £5.9 million deal to provide “training needs analysis” for Saudi prison service staff, BBC reported.
On Friday Hammond will fly to Vienna for further talks about Syria with a host of other countries including the US, Iran, Germany and Jordan before heading to Bahrain at the weekend to give speech about extremism.
Saudi Ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz in an article on Monday warned that there could be serious repercussions from what he called an “alarming change” in the UK’s attitude.
Saudi Arabia has long been accused of human rights abuses, and has come under pressure from the UK over its treatment of both expats and Saudi nationals who have fallen foul of the country’s Islamic laws.
Controversial cases involving Britons in Saudi Arabia include that of Karl Andree, 74, who was jailed for possessing alcohol. He was also sentenced to 360 lashes – which his family said could kill him – but Saudi officials have said this punishment will not be carried out.
David Cameron has written a letter requesting Mr Andree’s release.
Prince Mohammed in the Telegraph article said there is a lack of “mutual respect” between the two countries.
“Over the past few weeks, there has been an alarming change in the way Saudi Arabia is discussed in Britain,” the ambassador wrote in the article.
“It should be worrying to all those who do not want to see potentially serious repercussions that could damage the mutually beneficial strategic partnership that our countries have so long enjoyed,” he wrote.
Prince Mohammed said his country was one of Britain’s closest military allies in the Middle East and an invaluable source of intelligence on the activities of terrorist groups.
He also said that commercial contracts between the two countries provided over 50,000 British families with livelihoods.
The prison contract was then cancelled on Oct. 13, the same day that Cameron’s spokeswoman said he would intervene in the case of Karl Andree, a 74-year-old British man facing 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia after being caught with home-made wine.
The British government said the cancellation of the contract was unrelated to Andree’s case, but the timing led to a widespread perception that concerns over the judicial system in Saudi Arabia had played a part.
Dismissing that as speculation, Prince Mohammed offered no comment on the cases of Nimr or Andree, alluding only to “domestic events in the Kingdom”.
“If the extensive trade links between the two countries are going to be subordinate to certain political ideologies, then this vital commercial exchange is going to be at risk,” he wrote.
“We want this relationship to continue but we will not be lectured to by anyone.” A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Cameron said she had not discussed the article with him but said British officials and ministers would continue to raise issues with the Saudi authorities where there were concerns.
A Foreign Office statement said Mr Hammond was in the region to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the crisis in Syria.
“During the Gulf visit, the foreign secretary will also discuss the ongoing conflict in Yemen,” the statement added.
“As usual on all visits, he will raise consular cases, including current Saudi judicial cases.”