By Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron warned that an Iranian development of nuclear weapons might “trigger a nuclear arms race” across the Middle East.
Iran obtaining nuclear arms would not only be a “desperately bad development for our world,” it could make the region “a more unstable and more dangerous place,” Cameron told students at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi today at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East.
Cameron has been discussing future cooperation with the United Arab Emirates on strategic defense issues as contingency plans are examined for any escalation of Iran’s nuclear ambitions -- including the possibility of blocking the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil-supply route.
Three weeks ago, Cameron called on Israel to refrain from a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, saying time was needed for sanctions to work. The U.S. and European nations say Iran’s program is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran says it’s intended for civilian purposes.
Cameron is seeking to boost defense sales in the region and to arrange the sale of more than 100 Typhoon jets in the coming year in a deal that would be worth more than 6 billion pounds ($9.5 billion) to British companies, the premier’s office said in an e-mailed statement. He moves on from the UAE to Saudi Arabia tomorrow.
The Saudi government has signaled it’s interested in adding to the 72 Typhoon jets the country has already, according to the statement, while the U.A.E. has shown interest in ordering as many as 60 jets. The Typhoon is built by Eurofighter GmbH, made up of BAE Systems Plc (BA/), Finmeccanica SpA (FNC) and European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. (EAD)
“Britain has important defense industries that employ over 300,000 and so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right,” Cameron said as he landed in Dubai, responding to media questions about the human-rights records of the countries he is visiting. “We have one of the strictest regimes anywhere in the world for sales of defense equipment, but we do believe that countries have a right to self-defense.”
Cameron has put trade at the heart of his administration’s foreign-policy objectives. President Francois Hollande also visited the region yesterday pressing French defense exports.
The prime minister said he wouldn’t hesitate to raise human-rights concerns on his trip.
“On human rights, there are no no-go areas in this relationship,” Cameron told reporters. “We discuss all of these things, but we also show respect and friendship to a very old ally and partner.”
The relationship between the U.K. and Saudi Arabia was strained recently when the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee announced it would be reviewing Britain’s relationship with the Gulf nation, citing human-rights concerns.
Saudi officials told the BBC Oct. 15 they were insulted by the inquiry. Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field told reporters in London today that it is up to Parliament to decide the subjects it looks at.