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Cameron seeks arms deals with Arab world
November 6, 2012 9:04 by Reuters
British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to balance concern over human rights in Gulf Arab states with winning lucrative arms deals for Britain as he started a tour of the region on Monday.
Cameron said supported calls for greater democracy in the Middle East and that the British government was engaging Gulf states – some of which are trying to stifle political unrest – on their human rights record.
But discussions would show “respect and friendship,” he said, recognising that governments have bridled at foreign criticism.
Cameron arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Monday and will visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before travelling to another destination in the Middle East.
High on his agenda will be selling the BAE Systems-built Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet.
BAE officials say the Emirates has shown interest in ordering up to 60 Typhoons. He will also talk to UAE officials about how to develop a “strategic air defence relationship”, including collaboration on military aerospace equipment.
Saudi Arabia has also signalled it might place a second substantial order of Typhoons on top of the 72 jets it has already acquired, Cameron’s office said.
However, the British prime minister’s trip is complicated by human rights issues as Gulf nations struggle to contain protests inspired by the Arab Spring and Western nations weigh up their own strategic and commercial interests.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have both bridled at criticism by the British parliament, media and human rights groups over their lack of democracy and stifling of dissent.
Cameron himself has also been taken to task at home for muting criticism of pro-Western Gulf nations – and trying to sell them arms – in comparison to his strident support for the opposition in other Arab struggles such as Libyaand Syria.
Meeting students in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Cameron said: “I’m a supporter of the Arab Spring, the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa.”
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