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Fri 13 Jan 2012 09:50 AM

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British PM meets Saudi king in first visit to kingdom

David Cameron in talks with King Abdullah, foreign minister, intelligence minister

British PM meets Saudi king in first visit to kingdom
British Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time since coming to power. (Getty Images)

British Prime Minister David Cameron met Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Friday in his first visit to the world's top oil exporter since taking office in 2010, the Saudi Press Agency said.

He also met the conservative Islamic kingdom's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and the intelligence minister, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz.

Saudi Arabia is a major buyer of British weaponry, and British defence sources say negotiations are under way on the Saudi purchase of 48 Typhoon Eurofighter aircraft. The Saudis agreed to buy 72 Typhoons from BAE Systems as part of the Salaam deal in 2006.

The Saudi armed forces chief of staff said in November that the kingdom was preparing to rebuild its armed forces in response to the "risks surrounding our country".

Bilateral trade is worth £16bn a year and Saudi investment in the UK is worth more than £62bn.

Cameron's visit comes at a time of high tension between the West and Iran and a year after Arab uprisings began shaking the Middle East and North Africa.

Last month London passed tough sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme, which Western countries suspect is aimed at building an atomic bomb but Iran says is for purely peaceful purposes.

Saudi Arabia has also fallen out with the Islamic republic, which it fears is using the Arab uprisings to alter the balance of power in the region.

It also points to the US discovery of an alleged plot by Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, which Iran denies.

Last month Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which carries Gulf oil exports to the outside world, if new sanctions threatened its oil exports.

Later on Friday, Cameron is expected to meet Crown Prince Nayef, King Abdullah's half brother, who became heir to the throne in October.

Nayef, interior minister since 1975, has led Riyadh's campaign against Islamic militants over the past decade and has also developed a reputation for intolerance of dissent.

It was not clear whether Defence Minister Prince Salman, appointed in November, would attend Friday's talks, but he often meets visiting leaders alongside King Abdullah, his half brother and Prince Nayef, his full brother.

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