By Claire Valdini
David Cameron in Gulf on three-day diplomacy tour, visit comes amid reportedly strained ties
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has arrived in the Gulf as part of a three-day diplomacy tour intended to strengthen Britain’s defence and commercial ties in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Cameron and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond will visit the UAE on Monday and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before traveling to another destination in the Middle East as part of a low-key trip to persuade regional powers to buy more than 100 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.
The deals are said to be valued at GBP£6bn (US$9.6bn) to Britain.
The trip is designed to patch up relations with leaders in both Gulf states, where British companies such as BP and BAE Systems have important interests.
Cameron’s office said it would “help Britain compete and thrive in the global race”.
“The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman have all expressed an interest in purchasing Typhoons and the government is aiming to secure sales of over 100 aircraft to the region in the coming year, deals that together would be directly worth over GBP£6bn to British firms,” his office said in a statement to Reuters.
The trip comes amid strained relations between the two regions following Britain’s support for revolutions that toppled Arab leaders and concern in the Gulf that it is too welcoming of the Islamists that replaced them.
Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have also been criticised by Western countries for alleged human rights abuses in the wake of the Arab Spring.
BP during the summer was unexpectedly excluded from bidding for the renewal of a 1.4m barrel-a-day concession in Abu Dhabi. UAE officials in July confirmed that BP – one of four western multinationals operating the 75-year concession – did not receive a letter inviting them to bid.
Gulf officials have also hinted that Britain may lose out on other major contracts in the future and award lucrative deals to Asian companies if the UK continues to support calls for reform.
The UAE is the UK’s largest export market in the MENA region with infrastructure, energy, defence among the key sectors, according to the UK Trade & Investment website. The UK exported GBP£4.7bn (US$7.5bn) to the UAE in 2011.
Discussions with regional leaders are also likely to include talks surrounding mutual areas of interest such as a peaceful resolution in Syria and facing down threats from Iran.