Defence Secretary Michael Fallon pays low-key visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss military cooperation

Michael Fallon met with the country's interior ministry, who is responsible for internal repression

The Defence Secretary has paid a low-key visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss how Britain can cooperate more closely with the oil-rich autocracy on defence issues.  

Michael Fallon’s visit, which has not yet been widely reported in the British media, was reported by Persian Gulf-based news agencies.

The Bahrain News Agency said Mr Fallon met with HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, crown price, deputy prime minister and interior minister of Saudi Arabia on 29 March.

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A portrait of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed Bin Nayef in Saudi capital Riyadh (Getty)

“During the meeting, they discussed areas of cooperation between the two countries, especially in the field of defence,” Emirates News Agency, another Gulf news organisation said.

“The meeting also touched on the latest regional and international developments in the region, including the fight against terrorism and extremism.”

As interior minister Prince Mohammed is directly responsible for security in the kingdom, including the internal repression of protest and dissent.

Saudi Arabia bans public gatherings, discriminates against its Shia minority, and has sentenced pro-democracy protesters and internal dissents to death by crucifixion and beheading, according to human rights groups and previous reports.

In one case reported in the Western media,  Abdullah Al-Zaher was arrested in 2012 after attending a pro-democracy protest at the age of 15. He was sentenced to beheading and crucifixion.

David Cameron earlier this year that Britain’s relationship with the country was important for its security.

“They are opponents of Daesh and the extremism [they spread],” he said.

MPs on Parliament’s international development committee this year called for an arms embargo against the country because of alleged war crimes committed by the country’s forces in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has admitted bombing multiple hospitals operated by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières. During its intervention on the side of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, it has also killed people at a wedding party and bombed schools.

Despite these reports, the British Government has permitted increased arms sales to the regime.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The death toll is rising and the humanitarian situation is getting worse. UK arms have been central to the destruction, and yet the Defence Secretary is sitting down for photos with the Crown Prince and discussing ways to make the toxic relationship even closer. 

“Thousands have been killed by the bombardment and yet the UK has continued to arm the Saudis and fuel the destruction."

Mr Fallon made the flying visit on his way to the DMIDEX arms fair in Qatar. Here he announced that the UK lead a new naval taskforced in the Gulf to tackle smuggling, terrorism, and piracy.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson confirmed Mr Fallon had visited the country. The spokesperson said: “During these talks he reiterated the importance of working together to deal with global threats, including countering the poisonous ideology of Daesh, and regional instability.”

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