British defence minister in Saudi after Eurofighter crash

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Britain's defence minister Liam Fox was in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks after the crash of a British-supplied Eurofighter jet that killed a Saudi pilot.

Fox flew into the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Friday for a four-day visit during which he is to hold meetings with top Saudi officials, according to the official SPA news agency.

He was greeted by diplomatic officials, as 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.

The visit comes a month after a Saudi lieutenant colonel died when his Eurofighter Typhoon fighter 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.

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

Saudi Arabia took delivery last year of the first of the 72 Eurofighter Typhoons it plans to buy from Britain.

Under the original deal, BAE is to deliver 24 Typhoons completely built to the Saudis, and 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 plan for assembly has moved slower than expected due to unspecified problems.

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

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