By Claire Valdini
David Cameron says contracts “entirely legitimate”; supports Arab Spring movements
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has defended military deals with Gulf states as “entirely legitimate” as he launched a major push to strengthen Britain’s defence and commercial ties during a three-day tour of the region.
Cameron, who is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, said there were no “no-go areas” when it came to discussing human rights record of Saudi Arabia.
“We do believe countries have a right to defend themselves. And we do believe Britain has important defence industries that employ over 300,000 people and so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right,” Cameron said during a visit to the UAE on Monday.
Cameron also insisted the Arab Spring is a positive development: “I am a supporter of the Arab Spring. I think that the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa,” he added during a discussion at Zayed University.
“I think we should respect the different traditions and pathways that countries take, we should not think that all countries are the same, and we should not also think that just being an open society means just holding election and that is it,” he added.
Cameron arrived in the UAE Monday as part of a three-day diplomacy tour intended 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 the visit would “begin the next chapter in the relationship, establishing a truly strategic defence partnership”.
“This presents an opportunity to significantly boost the British defence industry – worth GBP£5.4bn in annual exports and sustaining 54,000 jobs – and the Prime Minister will use to the trip to specifically promote the Typhoon fast jet to Gulf leaders,” it added.
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.
How can a trip to "persuade regional powers to buy more than 100 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets" be described as "diplomacy"?