Theresa May defends Saudi Arabia trip after human rights concerns

Press Agency SPA Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior rear left meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. (Saud

Trade and security will be top of the agenda when the Prime Minister meets King Salman of Saudi Arabia later today.

British Ambassador Simon Collis told Arab News Monday that May will have the opportunity to discuss important cooperation between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism and trade.

May and Saudi King Salman held talks focused on "bilateral relations and cooperation" as well as "regional and worldwide developments", the official news agency SPA said.

The UK is also in the early stages of trying to agree a post-Brexit free trade deal with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia.

She will fly in to Saudi Arabia this afternoon where she has promised to stand up for human rights - as well as the national interests of Britain. Saudi Arabia is the biggest nation in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which is believed to be very keen to sign a free trade deal with the United Kingdom immediately after Brexit.

Saudi Arabia faces a significant budget deficit with billions of dollars in debts to private firms, largely in the construction business, after a drop in global oil prices by about half since 2014.

When asked by reporters if she would be raising the issue of human rights with the Saudis, May said the matter would be on the table as part of ongoing diplomacy. "We will be supporting that through the aid and support that we give", she said.

Saudi Arabia and 12 of its regional allies began a military campaign in support of Yemeni government forces in March 2015 to prevent Ansarullah Houthi rebels - whom it sees as a proxy for Iran - from taking complete control of Yemen after seizing much of the north.

Activists accuse Saudi Arabia of committing war crimes against civilians in Yemen, a charge Riyadh denies.

The prime minister's approach to relations with states like Saudi Arabia is seen by colleagues as hard-headed - critics say cold. And there is so much we can do together on trade, with enormous potential for Saudi investment to provide a boost to the British economy.

Mrs May has faced repeated calls to suspend arms sales to Riyadh amid claims of widespread human rights abuses in Yemen during the coalition bombing campaign it is leading, which includes Jordan.

May's comments come after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently criticised her visit to the country, as a result of its controversial human rights record and military actions in Yemen.

She has said she hopes to be an example of the role women could play in any society.

Fighting between government forces - backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf States - and Houthi rebels in Yemen has left the country on the brink of starvation with thousands dead.

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