[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 21:07 GMT
Minister praises UK-Saudi links
Kim Howells
Kim Howells said both countries understood each others' traditions
Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has called for Britain and Saudi Arabia to work more closely together, despite their differences.

Mr Howells told a conference ahead of a state visit by Saudi leader King Abdullah that the two states could unite around their "shared values".

Earlier, King Abdullah accused Britain of not doing enough in the fight against international terrorism.

The king's arrival marks the first visit by a Saudi monarch in 20 years.

'Working together'

Human rights campaigners have criticised the state visit and have said Britain should do more to highlight human rights breaches under his regime.

We both face the same threats and insecurities
Kim Howells
Foreign Office minister

Downing Street insisted the government would continue to raise the issue with the Saudi delegation during the week.

At the opening of the Two Kingdoms Dialogue between the two countries, Mr Howells told the audience that both the UK and Saudi Arabia respected each other's religious and political traditions and have common reason to work together for increased security.

He said: "Some commentators will focus on our differences and ask how we can talk of shared values."

He made no specific reference to King Abdullah's remarks about Britain's role in tackling terrorism, but insisted that both countries understood the threat that groups like al-Qaeda pose.

The king's visit has provoked controversy over Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

A demonstration is planned outside the Saudi embassy in London later in the week in protest at the country's human rights record.

One Briton detained in Saudi Arabia in 2000 labelled the kingdom "morally bankrupt".

Sandy Mitchell was working in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested, tried and found guilty of spying and terrorism charges, before being sentenced to death. He was imprisoned for 32 months before a diplomatic deal secured his release.

"It's absolutely disgusting, sheer hypocrisy," he told BBC News 24. "Its human rights record is atrocious, torture is a systematic tool of investigation."

Reaching out

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said he was boycotting the visit, citing the corruption scandal over Al Yamamah arms deal, and the Saudis' human rights record.

"I think it's quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour," he said.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to tell the Saudis that their human rights record was "totally unacceptable".

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Brown would "raise issues he believes to be appropriate" with King Abdullah, but added that Mr Brown recognises that there are developments underway on the human rights front.

Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, said that, on the issue of women's rights, she was invited to speak to a mixed Saudi audience on the topic and emerged optimistic.

"I think actually it's really important that we stretch our hand out and reach out and work with the people in Saudi Arabia who actually are moving towards change," she told BBC News 24.

"In our own society the position of women has improved tremendously over the last 100 years or so and I think we will see changes to come in Saudi Arabia."

Failed to act

Tory leader David Cameron said: "The government is fully engaging with the Saudi government while they are here for their state visit, as I will be."

But he added that Britain should always make it "candidly clear" when it disagreed with the regime.

In a BBC interview, King Abdullah said Britain failed to act on information passed by the Saudis which might have averted terrorist attacks.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Whitehall officials have strenuously denied this.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah says Britain is not doing enough to fight terrorism

Speaking through an interpreter, the Saudi monarch said he believed most countries were not taking the issue seriously, "including, unfortunately, Great Britain".

"We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson says King Abdullah is annoyed that the rest of the world has largely failed to act on his proposal for a UN clearing house for information about terrorism.

The Saudi leadership maintains that it passed the UK information that might have averted the London bombings of 2005 if it had been acted on.

An investigation by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found no evidence of any intelligence passed on by the Saudis that could have prevented the 7 July 2005 bombings, the BBC's Frank Gardner said.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has pulled out of a scheduled meeting with the Saudi delegation to spend time with his wife and their newly-adopted second son.

It is understood that Mr Miliband is returning from the United States, where he was present at the birth of Jacob.

King Abdullah on defeating terrorism

Saudi visit to seal ties with UK
28 Oct 07 |  Middle East
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
11 Oct 07 |  Country profiles
Saudis buy Eurofighters from UK
17 Sep 07 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific