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U.K.-Saudi Arabian Relations

The United Kingdom has a long-standing and close relationship with Saudi Arabia, based on mutual respect and shared interests. Not only is Saudi Arabia a country of great strategic, economic and commercial importance to us, but there are many ties of history and friendship between Britain and that kingdom, including well-developed cultural, educational and sporting exchanges.

After 1945, Britain maintained a great chain of overseas military outposts stretching from the Suez Canal to Singapore. Commonly termed the `east of Suez' role, this chain had long been thought to be crucial for the country's security. Rudyard Kipling in "Mandalay" wrote Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst, Where there aren't no Ten Commandments, an' a man can raise a thirst...

Britain's decision to wthdraw from East of Suez was taken by the Harold Wilson Government in 1967-68. The decision resulted from a long-term Labour Government effort to re-examine Britain's world role. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Britain's military withdrawal "east of Suez" – primarily from Malaysia, Singapore and the Gulf – formally ended the Empire, and ended an era for postwar Britain.

The British Government has a number of concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia. These include aspects of the judicial system; corporal and capital punishment; torture; discrimination against women and non-Muslims; and restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, assembly and worship. The British Government remains committed to raising human rights with the Saudi authorities at every opportunity at working, Ambassadorial and Ministerial level. The British Government, as a member of the European Union, strongly advocates the abolition of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Britain's links with that country date back to the founding of the modern state of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s and 1930s. Britain never acted as protector of the kingdom, as it did with some of the smaller Gulf states. Instead, the relationship has always been one between two independent sovereign states. Britain recognised the important strategic role that Saudi Arabia was likely to play in the post-war world when Winston Churchill met King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, on the Suez canal in February 1945. Since then, successive British Governments, with allies in America and Europe, have sought to ensure that Saudi Arabia remains a force for stability in the region.

The United Kingdom has significant political and commercial interests in Saudi Arabia. About 20,000 UK nationals live there. Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest export market in the region. UK exports to Saudi Arabia were about £7 billion in 2006. The UK is Saudi Arabia's joint fourth largest investor. Bilateral trading relations are extensive. There is a major invisible account with numerous British financial institutions and companies investing in Saudi Arabia to the tune of £1 billion or more annually, and Saudi Arabians are investing in the City of London. With the exceptions of Hong Kong and Singapore, Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest export market outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest defense sales market in the world. The sale of military equipment, and the provision of military advice and support is, without doubt, a vital strand in the relationship with the UK. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the Al Yamamah project, which was worth over £43 Bn to the UK up to 2004. This which accountd for tens of thousands of jobs in the defense and defense-related sector and contributes to the overall health of the British aerospace industry.

Saudi Arabia is not just a trading partner, but a country whose foreign policy has shared similar objectives to thos of the UK. Whether in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Organisation of Islamic States or other organisations or groupings of which it is a member, Saudi Arabia has played a crucial role in the promotion of moderate and sensible policies. During the cold war, Saudi Arabia, while at all times remaining staunchly independent, was a vehement opponent of communism and the spread of Soviet influence throughout the region. Saudi Arabia had been in the forefront of efforts to establish credible regional security blocs. In 1981, it helped to create the Gulf Co-operation Council which, although not perfect, none the less proved to be a workable model for developing regional co-operation. There was a growing relationship between the GCC and the European Union.

The UK shares with Saudi Arabia a particular concern for the continued stability of the Gulf, to which the UK make a substantial contribution on the ground and at the United Nations. Britain stood shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia in the Gulf war in 1991, with the largest deployment of British armed forces since the second world war, and was ready to do the same again if necessary.

As the leading member of the GCC and a major Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia played a vital role in the coalition against Iraq, helping to defeat the expansionist ambitions of Saddam Hussein and had since been steadfast in support of all UN resolutions designed to force Iraq to adhere to internationally acceptable standards of behavior.

Saudi Arabia is a vital partner to the UK in the global counter terrorism efforts. The Saudi government stands firm against terrorism and is determined to take action against terrorists. It has a record of condemning acts of terrorism. The Saudi royal family was swift to condemn the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and were one of the first countries to offer help to the UK after 7 July attacks Saudi Arabia has also suffered from terrorism.

The UK and Saudi Arabia have a number of cultural and educational links. The British Council has an important English language and vocational training scheme in Saudi Arabia. The number of Saudi students at UK universities continues to grow. In the academic year 2007/8 12,000 Saudi students attended UK universities on Saudi government scholarships and this number is likely to increase in 2009.

As King Abdullah’s title, ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ suggests, Saudi Arabia is home to the two most important sites in Islam; Mecca and Medina. Every year millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. In 1999, the UK became the first predominantly Christian country to organise an official Hajj delegation to assist the 20,000 British pilgrims. It included members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and volunteers from the Muslim community. This has been repeated every year since then.

David Cameron's new government in 2010 made reviving Britain's old alliance with the Gulf states the key priority of its foreign policy. Britain planned to open a permanent Royal Navy base in the Gulf as it seeks a return "East of Suez" in a major strategic reversal of course, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said on 06 December 2014. Hammond said that Britain and France were intending to take up a greater security role in the Middle East as the United States "pivoted" towards Asia. The base, which will host the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyers and by somereports the two new aircraft carriers it is building, marked a return to the Gulf 40 years after Britain pulled out in the early 1970s and wound down its overseas Empire.

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