AFP: Iran and the Middle East peace process are likely to dominate Wednesday’s talks here between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, a senior Foreign Office official said. LONDON (AFP) Iran and the Middle East peace process are likely to dominate Wednesday’s talks here between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, a senior Foreign Office official said.
Iraq and Lebanon were also to feature heavily, he said, as King Abdullah arrived in London on Monday for the first state visit by a Saudi monarch since King Fahd’s 1987 trip.
Britain sees Saudi Arabia as a crucial partner in economic ties, Middle East regional stability and combating Islamist terrorism.
“We have a new king in Saudi Arabia and a new prime minister here, so this is an auspicious moment to mark the strength of the relationship between our two kingdoms,” the official said.
“The relationship we have with Saudi Arabia is in many ways one of the most important we have with any state. Certainly in the Middle East it is central to us and it is also, I believe, central to the Saudi Arabians.
“In economic and commercial terms the relationship is important and strong. We also share a whole range of different political interests.”
The Middle East peace process, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran would likely be covered in Wednesday’s talks, he said, adding: “On all these issues Saudi Arabia has a distinctive and important role to play.”
He said Britain and Saudi Arabia had shared interests in counter-terrorism and counter-radicalism and there were also likely to be on the agenda.
But King Abdullah’s visit has stirred up criticism from politicians and protestors citing human rights abuses and corruption in Saudi Arabia.
He himself courted controversy before even arriving in London by accusing Britain of not taking terrorism seriously enough.
On dealing with Iran, the Foreign Office official said: “We’re both concerned by the challenge the Iranian nuclear process represents.
“The key is how to persuade the Iranian authorities that it is in their interests to cooperate with the international community.
“I think the Saudi government has similar concerns to ours about the way this is going. It’s in our interests to pursue as strongly as we can a diplomatic resolution to this.”
On the Israel-Palestine conflict, he added: “We each agree that the way ahead on the peace process has to be to bring the parties together for a significant and credible process to resolve conflict.
“We and the Saudis share a desire to see this produce something real.”
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia’s regional heavyweight status made it central to reconstruction, stability and prosperity in Iraq and finding a “consensual, credible and constitutional” settlement in Lebanon, the official said.
King Abdullah’s three-day state visit formally begins Tuesday, when he will be officially welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II with a state procession and a banquet.
On Wednesday he will hold talks with Brown, heir apparent Prince Charles and opposition leader David Cameron.
The king leaves Thursday for Italy, Germany and Turkey.