14 July 2023

UK invites Saudi crown prince for visit – report

14 July 2023

Rishi Sunak has invited Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and prime minister Mohammed bin Salman to the UK in the autumn, it has been reported.

It would be his first visit to Britain since the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi five years ago.

The Gulf state’s day-to-day leader was accused of ordering the assassination of the Washington Post writer at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, although he denied any involvement and blamed rogue agents.

We have been clear that this murder was a terrible crime and that Saudi Arabia must ensure such an atrocity can never happen again

Downing Street declined to comment on whether an invite has been extended, as reported by the Financial Times, citing a Government official.

Asked about the Prime Minister’s view of the journalist’s killing, his official spokesman told reporters on Friday: “From the start we have been clear that this murder was a terrible crime and that Saudi Arabia must ensure such an atrocity can never happen again.

“We’ve sanctioned 20 Saudi nationals involved in the murder under the global human rights scheme.”

A UK visit would be the latest sign of western countries welcoming the crown prince back into the diplomatic fold after he was frozen out following the murder.

Britain is aiming to strengthen its ties with the kingdom despite concerns over its human rights record as it seeks to attract investment from the oil-rich Gulf following Brexit.

The FT said details of the trip have not yet been finalised, quoting an official as saying: “It’s more up to them, given we need them more than they need us.”

Mr Sunak met the crown prince on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali last November.

The leaders discussed social reforms, women’s rights and civil liberties, but Mr Sunak did not raise the murder of Mr Khashoggi, No 10 said at the time.

US President Joe Biden raised the subject in his own talks over energy and security issues with the crown prince in July 2022, indicating that he thought the Saudi leader was responsible for the killing.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s foreign policy adviser, said the crown prince “must be properly held to account for abuses by Saudi officials, including Khashoggi’s murder”.

She said: “There must be no question of the UK rolling out the red carpet for Mohammed bin Salman or of the Saudi ruler being able to use this visit to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.

“The visit looks set to coincide with the five-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s sickening assassination and dismemberment at the hands of Saudi agents in Turkey, a crime which has essentially been covered up by the unrepentant Saudi authorities.”

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