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Wed 29 Nov 2017 08:07 AM

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British PM May embarks on visit to Saudi Arabia, Jordan

British leader will hold talks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well King Abdullah II and Prime Minister Hani Mulki in Jordan

British PM May embarks on visit to Saudi Arabia, Jordan
British Prime Minister Theresa May escorted by Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al Jadaan upon their arrival to Saudi Stock Exchange Tadawul in the capital Riyadh on April 4 2017 Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

UK Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to the Middle East late on Tuesday for her second visit to Jordan and Saudi Arabia this year, as she seeks to strengthen defense ties with two allies seen as vital to the region’s security.

On Wednesday, May will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for discussions about the ongoing conflict in Yemen, Saudi’s stand-off with Qatar, and the Gulf kingdom’s program of social reforms.

The following day, she’ll meet with King Abdullah of Jordan and Prime Minister Hani Mulki in Amman to discuss how the UK can support the country’s economic resilience.

“We need to ensure that we’re building stable partnerships to ensure our security, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s in Britain’s national interest to work with Jordan and Saudi Arabia,’’ May told reporters on the plane to Amman.

“It’s in their security interests but also in ours. We want to help them to address regional challenges but also to put through the reforms that they have to ensure their long-term stability.’’

By visiting the Middle East, May aims to show that even as Britain leaves the European Union it remains an influential country on the world stage, able to “forge a new and confident future,” she said. 

The visit comes at a tricky moment in Brexit negotiations, with May under pressure from the EU to make additional proposals both for Britain’s exit payment and the border with Ireland so discussions can move on to trade with the bloc.

The premier last visited Saudi Arabia in April, when she was accompanied by London Stock Exchange Group Chief Executive Officer Xavier Rolet, who pitched London as the venue for Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering.

This time no business leaders are accompanying May and the political landscape in Saudi Arabia has been changed by the rise of the crown prince, who has rounded up rivals in graft raids and is seeking to speed economic reforms.

Bin Salman “is somebody who has a very clear vision,” May said, referring to the crown prince’s programme of reforms that includes goals to increase the participation of women in the workforce and increase non-oil government revenue.

“We’ve already seen some changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, for example women being allowed to drive. It’s important that we work with him,” May said.

At the same time, the prime minister expressed concern about the situation in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been conducting a military offensive against pro-Iranian rebels since 2015.

She said she will tell the crown prince of the need for “full humanitarian and commercial access” through the port of Hodeida.

“We’re very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” she said.