UK’s Boris Johnson denies rift with Saudi Arabia
The foreign secretary insisted that the two countries share a common view of the world, including on how to deal with “Iranian disruptiveness”
Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson has reached out to Saudi Arabia, asking for a role in Vision 2030 and claiming the two countries share a “common view of the world”.
The Conservative minister denied any rift in the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia over Iran, saying the two nations were ready to confront Tehran’s “disruptiveness” in the Middle East.
Speaking to Al Arabiya News Channel upon his return from a trip to Saudi Arabia, Mr Johnson said the partnership between the two countries is “extraordinary” and “historic”.
“We have a common perspective on some of the challenges that we have to face in the region, particularly how to deal with Iranian disruptiveness,” Mr Johnson said.
“Iran is up to all sorts of no good in the region… The number one issue on my agenda is that it is unacceptable for them to be conniving in the Houthis’ use of missiles against Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It is a catastrophic policy they are following and we are very clear about that in the UK.”
Touching on the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Johnson said “for all its faults, for all its imperfections”, the UK is still in favour of it. “The crucial thing is to make sure that Iran obeys,” he continued.
Mr Johnson said that his job is to talk frankly about the security challenge that Saudi Arabia faces and its right to defend itself, including against attack from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
“We have to talk frankly to the world and the British public about the security challenge that Saudi Arabia faces, the threat of missiles launched by the Houthis coming from Iran, and striking Riyadh, threatening airports,” he said.
“Everybody understands the [Arab] collation has a legitimate case, the legitimate government was removed, and Saudi Arabia has a right to protect itself against attack.”
The foreign secretary visited Saudi Arabia last week during a two-country tour to the region, which also took in a trip to Oman.
During his visit, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and a number of other high-ranking officials.
Mr Johnson was hoping to use the trip to deepen his involvement in the Yemen conflict, which formed a major focus of the talks. The talks also ranged across foreign policy challenges and Riyadh’s Vision 2030 programme.
During the interview with Al Arabiya, Mr Johnson acknowledged the concerns of the British public about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but insisted “people need to understand the other side of the story”.
“Believe me, we are very committed to try and help our Saudi friends… That means to protect the security of Saudi Arabia, to achieve a new future for Yemen. That does not involve Saudi Arabia being vulnerable to bombardment.”
Brushing off media concerns about a deterioration in the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia, Mr Johnson said the partnership continues to “intensify”, including in terms of trade.
He added that he was “hopeful” that the Crown Prince would visit Britain in “due course”.
“An invitation has certainly been issued, and all I’ll say is that we’re very hopeful that he and others will come.”
Mr Johnson said the plans of Vision 2030 were “incredibly important” and would attract British involvement.
When the Crown Prince visits the UK, the foreign secretary said there would be joint working groups unveiled to promote cooperation in a range of areas including sport and music exchanges. “These are things where the UK are very strong”, he said. “Clearly there are lots of areas of cooperation where we want to be helpful, whether its health cooperation, education, tech, the environment… we’re there to help.”
Mr Johnson said the security partnership was also incredibly important. “This is an area where we have intense cooperation,” he said, adding that information from Saudi Arabia security sources had saved “many, many lives” and London’s own services had “tried to reciprocate”.
On Syria, Mr Johnson described the Assad government as “one of the most bloodthirsty regimes of all times”. However, he acknowledged that the old policy of saying “Assad must go” before starting any political discussions is no longer feasible.
“Nobody believes that anymore, we’ve got to be honest. We’ve got to get going with talks in Geneva… to bring in the widest range of voices,” he said.
Stressing the need for a political solution in Syria, he said: “The answer is to have some solution that devolves power to the regions of Syria.
“There must be a single nation, what we need is a political process that produces a leader that can bring the country together again. And that can only happen after there’s been a proper discussion about the constitution, and in the context of UN monitored elections that are free and fair.”
Finally on Jerusalem, Mr Johnson offered an assurance that the UK would not be following in the steps of US President Donald Trump in moving its embassy.
“I can tell you that’s not what’s going to happen. We have no such intention – we’ve always believed that that kind of decision should only be in the context of a two-state solution in which there is a resolution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he said.
“Let’s see what comes out of the White house in terms of the Middle East peace process, and let’s hope that there’s something symmetrically now to encourage the Palestinian side as well.”
Updated: January 30, 2018 10:14 PM