Saudi king, British defence minister in security talks

25th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

British defence minister Liam Fox and Saudi King Abdullah discussed Saturday key regional stress points including Iran and Afghanistan, a British official said.

"The defence secretary discussed issues including stability and security in the Gulf and the wider Middle East," a British embassy spokesman said.

In addition to bilateral relations, talks covered "the situation in Afghanistan ... and how Iran can be encouraged to be transparent and cooperative with the region and the West," he said.

Fox, who arrived Saturday, was the first British cabinet minister to visit Saudi Arabia, one of the key powers in Middle East politics, since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed a new British government in May.

He met the king in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the government's summer base.

His visit comes as the two countries continue to develop a programme for providing Saudi Arabia with up to 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, in a 2006 deal that has been valued at up to 20 billion pounds (32.9 billion dollars), including armaments and long-term servicing.

Under the original deal, Britain's BAE is to deliver 24 Typhoons completely built to the Saudis, with another 48 are to be assembled inside Saudi Arabia as the country seeks to build up its own aeronautic industry capabilities.

Defence industry sources say the Saudi assembly programme has moved slower than expected due to unspecified problems.

The visit also comes a month after a Saudi lieutenant colonel died when his Typhoon jet crashed shortly after takeoff on a training flight from Moron air base in southern Spain.

A Spanish flight instructor was able to eject safely ahead of the crash, but preliminary reports suggested the Saudi pilot's ejector malfunctioned.

The Eurofighters were grounded in recent weeks in several countries including Britain, Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia due to the problematic ejectors.

Fox is planning to meet with other senior Saudi officials Monday, though his counterpart, Saudi defence minister and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, has remained in Morocco for a month where he is believed taking treatment for cancer.

Fox's visit also comes two weeks after Washington revealed a deal worth up to 60 billion dollars to sell F-15 fighters, attack helicopters and other defence equipment and services to the Saudis.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article