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British PM Johnson meets Saudi Arabia crown prince

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a one-day visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Wednesday. AFP

British PM Johnson meets Saudi Arabia crown prince

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to lobby for higher production on March 16 after Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine sent markets into turmoil.

Johnson, one of the few Western leaders to visit Riyadh since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, said he had a “very productive conversation” with Prince Mohammed, but did not announce any concessions from his hosts.

“I think you need to talk to the Saudis about that,” Johnson told British media after the talks.

He added that there was a “lot of agreement that it’s important to avoid inflation” and “an agreement that we need to work together to bring peace to Ukraine”.

The UK leader is hoping the oil-rich Gulf states will raise production to help calm oil prices, which soared to nearly $140 a barrel before dropping below $100, and help end the West’s dependency on Russian oil following the offensive.

Johnson also “raised the UK’s concerns about ongoing human rights issues”, according to a statement released by his Downing Street office.

His visit coincides with fresh condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s record after 81 people were put to death in a mass execution on March 12. Rights groups questioned whether they had received fair trials.

It also coincided with the release of British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori after years in detention in Iran, following lengthy negotiations partly brokered by Oman.

In their talks, Johnson and Prince Mohammed discussed “regional and international issues of common interest and efforts exerted in their regard, including the developments in Ukraine”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, without mentioning any talks on oil.

Johnson met Prince Mohammed after discussing “the stability of the global oil markets” with Emirati royal Sheikh Mohammed, according to the UAE’s official WAM news agency.

“The leaders welcomed the long-standing partnership between our two countries and discussed opportunities to increase collaboration between the UK and UAE on energy security, green technology, and trade,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

He also held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the UAE.

Johnson’s spokesman said he would also ask Prince Mohammed to condemn Russia’s President Vladimir Putin over the assault on Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are two of the world’s biggest oil exporters and both have ties to Moscow, have so far avoided taking a position against Russia.

But Johnson said before leaving that the impact of Putin’s “brutal and unprovoked” assault will be felt far beyond Europe.

He said as Western sanctions begin to bite, a new international coalition was needed to offset their impact on consumers already feeling the pinch from rising inflation.

“The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas,” he said in a statement.

“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are the UK’s two largest economic partners in the region, with bilateral trade worth £12.2 billion ($16 billion) and £10.4 billion respectively in 2020, Johnson’s office said.

Russia is the world’s largest producer of gas and one of the biggest oil producers.

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