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Gulf Countries

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

3. What recent assessment he has made of the state of relations between the UK and the countries of the Gulf; and if he will make a statement. (30260)

The Government are strongly committed to elevating our relations with all our partners across the Gulf. We are expanding co-operation with Gulf states across the board—in culture, education, defence and security, trade, investment, and foreign policy co-operation. Gulf states’ reactions to the increased engagement have been very positive, and we will maintain the commitment in the coming years.

Over the summer, I met the British ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Dominic Jermey, who told me how impressed he was with the Prime Minister visiting the Emiratis in June. In view of those warm words, will the Foreign Secretary tell me what work his Department is undertaking to ensure that British businesses are supported in exporting to Gulf nations?

I am very glad to know that the ambassador was pleased with the Prime Minister’s visit—it made a huge impact on the United Arab Emirates. My hon. Friend is right that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his visit in his first few weeks in office, and since then Her Majesty the Queen has made a state visit to the UAE and many of us on the Government Front Bench have also visited, so there has been a serious elevation of relationships. It is also true that there are many commercial opportunities, to which my hon. Friend referred. We export about £15 billion-worth of goods and services to the Gulf, but we can do much more. British embassies in the region and UK Trade & Investment are now poised to put their efforts behind that.

It was the worst kept secret in foreign policy that the nation feared most by the Arab states of the Gulf is not Israel but Iran; we did not need WikiLeaks to tell us that. Given that that is now out in the open, is there an opportunity to forge a new consensus—one that would embrace the countries not just of the EU but of the Gulf region—to convince everyone of the absolute necessity of taking action against Iran before it develops a nuclear capacity, which would be a threat to us all?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I am not going to comment on the WikiLeaks allegations, but of course there is enormous concern about the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the middle east being sparked by Iran’s policies on its nuclear programme. The Gulf states vary in their relationships with Iran; we have to be clear about that. The United Arab Emirates have recently joined in applying financial sanctions against Iran, whereas Oman has a different and long historical relationship with Iran and a strong relationship with this country, and wants to use its good offices to improve relationships between the west and Iran. Each of the Gulf states is able to help in its own way, and the elevation of our relationships with them encourages them to do that. We must join them in that, consulting them and being open to their advice about how to deal with Iran and other regional issues.