A handshake and a smile - but how did Gordon really feel?

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown and his "friend" King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia shook hands yesterday outside No 10 Downing Street.

It may not make the Brown family photograph album but Mr Brown put on a brave smile. No matter that Labour MPs were protesting outside the Saudi Arabian embassy a few hours later at the red-carpet treatment for the "dictator" of a "corrupt regime".

Ignoring the demonstrators, the Prime Minister steered the 83-year-old King into his Georgian official residence for a fireside chat that lasted 25 minutes before they posed for more photographs. They signed three bilateral agreements, on education, taxation and closer diplomatic links before going into lunch in the state dining room. "The atmospherics were very good and warm," said a senior aide to the Prime Minister. "They focused on issues that they feel passionate about."

Mr Brown told the King, who is also prime minister of his country, about his commitment to his global "education for all" project on which he persuaded the G8 nations to spend £8.5bn over 10 years. The King warmed to Mr Brown's theme, saying that it was through education that the Saudi government was going to counter the radicalisation of youth.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, later pointed out to the King at their meeting in Buckingham Palace that some of the education pamphlets published by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs that had been found in London mosques called for the beheading of Muslims who abandoned Islam, attacks on gay people, demands that women stay indoors and the outlawing of interfaith marriage.

"Most of the 45-minute meeting was spent discussing co-operation between Britain and Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism matters, including radicalisation inside and outside UK mosques, and the importance of stopping this radicalisation and the sources of funding for it," said a Tory aide. The King listened politely to Mr Cameron, but it is likely he felt more comfortable with his tete-a-tete with Mr Brown rather than his tea with the young Conservative pretender.

The embarrassing rift between the Saudi regime and the British Government that blew up earlier this year over the contract for 72 British-built Eurofighter Typhoon war planes worth £43bn was put firmly behind them.

At the time, the Blair government was criticised for halting a sleaze investigation into alleged kick-backs for the Saudi princes by the plane- maker BAE Systems. The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith explained it was dropped because it would be bad for national security, implying that the Saudis had threatened to withhold co-operation on the passage of terrorist information.

The threat of the Serious Fraud Office investigation brought Saudi-British relations to an all-time low.

Mr Brown emphasised the importance of Saudi Arabia in the search for an illusive Middle East peace deal, in which his predecessor, Tony Blair, is to play a central role.

In advance of their meeting, which was the key moment of the King's three-day state visit, Mr Brown told the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat he believed Saudi Arabia must play a crucial role in resurrecting the attempts to create a plan for peace in the Middle East at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in the US.

The Prime Minister went further than before in saying that he believed the answer to the Middle East must lie in making sure Palestinians have a viable independent state, touching on a theme that the King had raised at the banquet on Tuesday night hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

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