6 Nov 2012

Cameron in Middle East for talks on arms deal

3:42 pm on 6 November 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron insists that he won't shy away from raising the issue of human rights during a visit to the Middle East, where he's trying to secure arms deals worth £3 billion.

The BBC reports Mr Cameron said there would be no "no-go areas" but discussions would take place showing "respect and friendship".

Britain is looking to sell Typhoon jets to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, despite accusations of human rights abuses there.

Mr Cameron said countries had a right to self-defence and promoting UK business was "completely legitimate".

The prime minister is hoping to increase defence co-operation with the United Arab Emirates, including contingency plans for the possible basing of RAF warplanes if conflict erupts with Iran.

Gulf states have told the BBC that in the wake of the Arab Spring they worry that Britain risks confusing democracy and human rights movements with revolutionaries who, they say, want to replace the current monarchies with Islamic republics.

They have hinted that Britain risks losing major contracts in future, but human rights groups want the British government to put more pressure on Gulf rulers to speed up democratic reforms.

Mr Cameron said in Dubai: "On human rights, there are no no-go areas in this relationship. We discuss all of these things but we also show respect and friendship to a very old ally and partner.

"We have one of the strictest regimes anywhere in the world for sales of defence equipment but we do believe that countries have a right to self-defence and we do believe that Britain has important defence industries that employ over 300,000 people so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right."

Second visit for PM

It is Mr Cameron's second visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as prime minister.

Downing Street says Britain is looking to sell about 100 Typhoon jets to the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well as building closer defence and security ties.

The BBC reports a number of RAF Typhoons are already in the UAE for a joint training session.

The prime minister is expected to push for the UAE to buy 60 BAE Typhoon jets in a deal worth £3 billion.

He said British exports to the country were up 16% in the first half of the year and it was vital to be involved in the fastest-growing economies in the world.

"It is not just about trade and investment," the prime minister said.

"We are also partners in defence and security, we worked together in Libya and Afghanistan and we will be talking about all the key regional and global issues."