British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Monday as he kicked of a three-day Gulf visit aimed at enhancing ties and selling jets, reports said.
According to the official WAM news agency, Cameron and Sheikh Mohammed discussed “ways to strengthen ties of friendship and cooperation between the two friendly countries” as well as the regional political and security situation.
The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, also attended the Dubai meeting.
Cameron’s office had earlier said the talks with Sheikh Mohammed would also address collaboration over next-generation aerospace equipment.
Cameron arrived early Monday and breakfasted with British troops based in the Gulf state soon after his arrival, the British embassy in the United Arab Emirates said on its Twitter account.
He later took a ride on the Dubai Metro and tweeted: “British engineering helped build it with contracts worth over Â£600 million.”
Cameron told the BBC that his visit was not only focused on trade and investment.
“We’re also partners in defence and security. We worked together in Libya, we worked together in Afghanistan and we’ll be discussing all the key regional and global issues,” he told the broadcaster.
Cameron later travelled to the capital Abu Dhabi for a meeting with university students.
According to a statement by Cameron’s office, the prime minister was to accompany senior Emirati officials on an inspection of RAF Typhoons stationed at a UAE airbase as part of a training exercise.
The visit to the UAE, to be followed by a stopover in Saudi Arabia, “signals the PM’s commitment to cementing long-term partnerships with two of Britain’s most important strategic allies in the Gulf,” the statement said.
Cameron is expected to use the trip to push Britain’s defence industry and “specifically promote the Typhoon fast jet to Gulf leaders”, it added.
The UAE had shown an interest in ordering up to 60 Typhoon Eurofighters to replace their ageing French Mirages, according to the statement.
The British leader is to head to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before travelling onwards in the Middle East. His itinerary for the rest of the trip remains undisclosed for security reasons.
Cameron visited the UAE in 2010 and Saudi Arabia in January 2012.
Britain is trying to boost its arms sales to oil-rich Gulf states, which are key allies in a region facing instability from the violence in Syria and the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Saudi Arabia is interested in a second “substantial” order on top of the 72 Typhoons they already have, while Oman is in negotiations for 12 of the jets, the statement from the premier’s office said.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a project which involves British defence giant BAE Systems and companies from Germany, Italy and Spain.
The visit comes a month after Britain’s defence industry — which is worth Â£5.4 billion in annual exports and sustains 54,000 jobs — suffered a blow with the collapse of a mega merger between BAE and European aerospace consortium EADS.
It also comes against a backdrop of growing unease in the Gulf about the situation in Syria and its ally Iran.
Downing Street said Britain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia had a “shared commitment to security and stability and defeating the threats we face in the wider Middle East region”.
The Syrian regime accuses Saudi Arabia, along with Turkey and Qatar, of arming the rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile mainly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia is increasingly concerned about Shiite Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Iran denies Israeli and Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb, but has been hit by several rounds of UN and Western sanctions over its activities.