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Saudi Arabia: Foreign Relations

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what aims and objectives he has set for UK foreign policy in respect of Saudi Arabia. (309149)

Saudi Arabia is a key ally in a strategically important region. It is an important partner in trade and investment, education, counter terrorism, defence and energy security. We are committed to maintaining and developing the relationship.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. It is the UK’s 23rd largest export market overall, with visible exports worth over £2.3 billion in 2008, and significant two-way investment flows. Over 16,000 British citizens live and work there and a further 120,000 travel annually to perform the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages. Around 20,000 Saudis come to the UK as students each year, and many others visit for business and tourism: we issued over 90,000 visas this year. We will continue to develop and strengthen these long established commercial, educational and cultural ties.

We will continue to co-operate closely with Saudi Arabia to counter the spread and threat of terrorism. Saudi Arabia has significant influence in the Muslim world, not least as the location of Islam’s two holiest places and a centre of Islamic culture. Co-operation under the Prevent agenda is an important aspect of countering radicalisation in the UK and other countries key to the counter terrorism effort.

We will continue to work with Saudi Arabia to encourage it to take a full and active role in international institutions and on global issues such as climate change, the Middle East peace process and regional stability. We will also continue to work with the Saudi Government towards greater respect of human rights within Saudi Arabia.