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    Saudi crown prince visits UK with $100bn deals said to be on table

    Saudi Arabia and the UK will sign a series of agreements when the kingdom’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman visits London this week, in deals that diplomats said could be worth more than $100bn. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister, told reporters on Monday that the trip was aimed at taking the Saudi-UK relationship to a “higher level”, with both countries seeking co-operation in sectors such as education and technology as well as security. “Our relationship is so strong that the talks will be broad and wide ranging,” said Mr Jubeir. “There will be agreements and memorandums of understanding signed in a number of areas.” Mr Jubeir did not provide details of these agreements. But in recent months diplomats have spoken about plans for more Saudi investment in the UK, as well as the kingdom acquiring British companies that could help execute a radical overhaul of the Gulf country’s economy. Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, is the main driver behind the Vision 2030 reform programme that aims to reduce Saudi dependence on oil. On Monday, he began an overseas tour in Egypt that will also take in the UK and the US this month. He arrives in the UK on Wednesday and is due to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and other senior ministers, members of the royal family, as well as security officials and business people. The planned initial public offering of state energy giant Saudi Aramco is expected to come up in discussions, said several officials, with the London Stock Exchange competing with New York and Hong Kong for a potential overseas listing by the company. Yet it is also possible that the IPO will end up as only a domestic listing or a private sale. Mr Jubeir, who described UK-Saudi relations as “honest and frank”, did not go into details about Saudi Aramco’s plans. Campaign groups in the UK are planning protests in London during Prince Mohammed’s visit. The campaigners say the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia are fuelling a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where Riyadh has waged a three-year war against rebels allied to its arch-rival Iran.Please use the sharing tools found via the email icon at the top of articles

    Neil Partrick, lead contributor to Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy, said in a recent book: “The UK cannot claim . . . to encourage Saudi caution in Yemen when Britain is so intimately involved in the Saudi effort in Yemen as military adviser and supplier.” But Mr Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was misunderstood. “We have not done a good job in explaining ourselves,” he added. “We are trying to stabilise our region . . . people should be protesting in support, not in opposition.” He said the UK’s planned exit from the EU in 2019 would not have an impact on Riyadh’s view of Britain as an investment destination. He described the UK as one of the world’s “great powers”. Prince Mohammed’s first overseas tour since becoming Saudi Arabia’s heir-apparent is also aimed at promoting the kingdom as a secure business destination following political upheaval that led to scores of prominent figures being arrested. “The trip is primarily to cement confidence in the crown prince’s economic reforms, and to build a sense that Saudi Arabia is a good place to invest,” said Michael Stephens, research fellow at the think-tank Royal United Services Institute. More than 200 princes, businessmen and senior officials were detained in a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown that unnerved international investors operating in Saudi Arabia.Please use the sharing tools found via the email icon at the top of articles. 

    A source of contention in the American leg of the crown prince’s tour will be the boycott by Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies of fellow US ally Qatar, on charges of sponsoring terrorism. Doha denies the charges. After US president Donald Trump initially backed the quartet’s moves on Qatar, the administration is now seeking to heal the rift as it prioritises containing Iran. “The president is determined to bring these allies together,” said one official. The US tour will include a planned meeting with Mr Trump and visits to Wall Street and California. Mr Trump’s visit to Riyadh last year delivered hundreds of billions of dollars in deals, mainly Saudi investments into the US. Prince Mohammed is also set to hold further talks with Apple and Amazon over deals for them to open outlets and data centres respectively in the kingdom. “[The crown prince] is proactively trying to reorient the economy around new knowledge industries, and this aims to attract American know-how to turbo-charge his agenda,” said Sam Blatteis, chief executive of The Mena Catalysts, an advisory firm.

    (ft)

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