UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech
UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech
Addressing leading business figures on Monday at a banquet in London, the prime minister said she will “provide support” for allies in the region given the threat from terror groups.
May said: “If we are to achieve enduring stability in the Middle East, we must make an offer which supports both the long-term security and prosperity of our key partners, and encourages them to be champions of the global order.
“As we are doing in countries from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, we will provide support to help them defend and protect their borders and their cities from external aggression — from terrorists to Iranian-backed proxies.”
The premier said she would also step up efforts to help “not just contain, but solve conflicts in the region, from seeking political solutions in Yemen and Libya, to bolstering a united Iraq and working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East Peace Process.”
She said: “While we will stand firm in our support for the Iran nuclear deal, we are also determined to counter destabilizing Iranian actions in the region and their ballistic missile proliferation, working with the US, France and Germany in particular.”
May added: “This support is a matter of urgency. As we see with the events of the last few weeks, from Lebanon to the GCC dispute, our partners see the threats they face as immediate and are straining for the means to tackle them.”
Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, said the speech shows that May is displaying her definitive support of Saudi Arabia.
Mekelberg said the timing of May’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall was also related to concerns about Lebanon’s unstable politics, which is fueling regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“There is a clear departure in her position. She is very clear about what side of the fence she is on … she is siding with Saudi Arabia and Jordan against Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.
“It makes sense because British relations are traditionally closer with Saudi Arabia politically and economically and in the current environment — with the situation in Lebanon and Syria — she is more mindful that she needs to contain Iran.
“It’s refreshing for the PM to have a clear opinion on it. It’s clear that Iran is not playing ball on its nuclear terms and the UK is not happy. Does it represent a change of policy? It’s about clarifying where the UK stands … she has put it in more absolute terms.”
In the same speech on Monday, May blasted Vladimir Putin’s government for trying to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in the West by “weaponizing information” and “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”
Matthew Goodwin, professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, and associate fellow at Chatham House, told Arab News: “While it is tempting to think that these US and UK (political) revolts were all about big data manipulation and Russian bots, the reality is far, far more complex. The deeper question that faces moderate centrists across the West is how can they get back on the front foot in terms of ideas and ideology. Many of those who voted for Brexit, Trump and national populists did so because they support their ideas.”
Experts have been quick to point out the “Churchillian” nature of May’s speech — and said part of the aim was also to show strength amid a number of difficulties at home.
Mekelberg said: “This is a woman who is in a very precarious position … she is being circled by vultures who want to weaken her, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Minister Michael Gove.”
Referring to May’s recent struggles with complex Brexit negotiations and Conservative Party infighting, Mekelberg said: “The tone of her speech is unusually strong. Her job is hanging by a thread and she is trying to display a show of strength.
“In light of the dire situation at home, there are elements of her trying to deflect the issue.”
Ben Martill, Dahrendorf Fellow in Europe after Brexit at The London School of Economics (LSE), agreed that May’s strong and clear political stance is designed to divert focus from a crumbling party and the rocky Brexit negotiations.
“Why is (she) choosing to talk about it now,” he said. “It’s because she has never been in a more embattled position so she wants to change the subject.”
Row over Putin’s attendance at Austria minister’s wedding
- The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine
- Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening
VIENNA: The expected attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin at Saturday’s wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl sparked a row Friday over whether the visit was appropriate.
“How is Austria’s presidency of the EU meant to live up to the government’s own claims of building bridges (between the EU and Russia) and being an honest broker, when Austria’s foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?” asked MP Andreas Schieder of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe).
SPOe MEP Evelyn Regner said the invite sent a “shameful” image of Austria to its EU partners, branding it “a provocation of European proportions.”
The Greens called for Kneissl’s resignation, pointing out that “Vladimir Putin is the EU’s most aggressive enemy in matters of foreign policy.”
Kneissl, 53, who was nominated for the post by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), will marry businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in a ceremony in a wine-growing village near the southeastern city of Graz.
Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening.
Putin’s attendance was originally described as a “private event” by Kneissl’s office but has since been upgraded to a “working visit.”
Several hundred police officers will take part in the security operation around the wedding.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) and FPOe Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache are also expected at the ceremony.
In 2016, the FPOe signed a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party.
The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The foreign ministry has insisted that Putin’s visit “will not change anything in terms of Austria’s foreign policy positions.”
The invitation has even provoked some criticism from within Kurz’s own OeVP party, with one of its MEPs Othmar Karas saying: “I can’t grasp the logic and the purpose of making such a personal occasion political and open to misuse in this way.”
Russia has been accused of seeking to weaken and divide the EU, notably by maintaining links with populist parties in several European countries.
Kurz’s OeVP and the FPOe have been in coalition together since December after an election campaign in which both parties ran on anti-immigration platforms.