British Prime Minister David Cameron met King Abdullah and top Saudi officials in Jeddah Tuesday after a two-day visit to the UAE, where he secured a defence partnership with the Gulf state.
The two leaders “discussed regional and international developments, mainly the Palestinian issue and the situation in Syria,” where a 20-month conflict has left more than 36,000 people dead, state news agency SPA reported.
Cameron told Al-Arabiya television he would support granting the embattled leader a safe passage out of Syria to end the nation’s bloodshed.
But “of course, I would favour him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done,” Cameron said, according to a transcript of the interview.
He also discussed with King Abdullah “means of strengthening cooperation between the two friendly states to serve the interests of both countries and their people.”
Cameron later met with female students at the Dar Al-Hekma College in the port city, where he arrived earlier in the day.
The visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia is aimed at strengthening economic and defence ties with them and “signals the PM’s commitment to cementing long-term partnerships with two of Britain’s most important strategic allies,” Cameron’s office said before the trip.
On Tuesday, Britain and the United Arab Emirates announced they had agreed on a defence partnership and to boost the British military presence there.
The two countries will “work together to deepen our defence ties” for the “security of the UAE and wider Gulf region,” a joint statement said.
They agreed to “establish an industrial defence partnership that involves close collaboration around Typhoon (fighter jets) and a number of new technologies”.
The two sides also agreed to increase joint military and training exercises and invest “in the British military presence in the UAE,” without giving any details.
The announcement came after Cameron held talks with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.
Cameron’s office said the premier was to accompany senior Emirati officials on an inspection of RAF Typhoons stationed at a UAE airbase as part of a training exercise.
The United Arab Emirates had shown an interest in ordering up to 60 Typhoon Eurofighters to replace ageing French Mirages, the statement said.
His meetings in Saudi Arabia will also likely focus on defence cooperation.
Britain is trying to boost its arms sales to oil-rich Gulf Arab states, 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 72 Typhoons it already has, and Oman is negotiating for 12 of the jets, Cameron’s office said.
Cameron was also expected to use the trip to have a dialogue about human rights, an issue he has come under fire for at home.
In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Cameron said rights were on the agenda in the talks but that the differences between countries should be noted.
“I’m a believer in the growth of democracy and human rights but we should recognise that all countries are different. They have different pathways, different histories, different cultures.
“And we should recognise in many of our strong Gulf partners, for instance in Kuwait you have a Kuwaiti parliament, you have the growth of building blocks of open societies and democracies and that’s the case in the United Arab Emirates as well.”
He also defended doing military deals with Gulf states.
“Every country in the world in my view has a right to self defence. But you cannot expect every country in the world to produce every tank, every ship, every plane that is necessary for that self-defence.”
“I make absolutely no apologies for the fact that I am here talking to our friends in the Emirates, our friends in Saudi Arabia about defence partnerships because their security is important for our security, and this is vital for British jobs.”
Cameron’s itinerary for the rest of the trip remains undisclosed for security reasons.