UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May talks with guests after making a speech on Monday at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2017

UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

LONDON: The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has thrown her weight behind Saudi Arabia and other “key partners” in the Middle East, as she condemned “external aggression” from Iran-backed proxies.
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.”


At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

Updated 18 October 2019

At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

  • The explosion took place in Haska Mina district of eastern Nangarhar province, and wounded at least 55 people
  • The dead were “all worshippers”

JALALABAD: At least 28 worshippers were killed and dozens wounded by a blast inside an Afghan mosque during Friday prayers, officials said, a day after the United Nations said violence in the country had reached "unacceptable" levels.
The explosion, which witnesses said collapsed the mosque's roof, took place in eastern Nangarhar province and wounded at least 55 people, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
He said the dead were "all worshippers" in the blast in Haska Mina district, roughly 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the provincial capital Jalalabad.
A doctor at a hospital in Haska Mina gave a slightly higher toll, telling AFP that "around" 32 bodies had been brought in, along with 50 wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and Daesh are active in Nangarhar province.
Witnesses said the roof of the mosque had fallen through after the "loud" explosion, the nature of which was not immediately clear.
"Dozens of people were killed and wounded and were taken in several ambulances," Haji Amanat Khan, a 65-year-old local resident, told AFP.
The blast came after the UN released a new report on Thursday saying an "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September.
The report, which also charts violence throughout 2019 so far, underscores how "Afghans have been exposed to extreme levels of violence for many years" despite promises by all sides to "prevent and mitigate harm to civilians".
It also noted the absurdity of the ever-increasing price paid by civilians given the widespread belief that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by either side.
"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.
The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 - represent a 42 percent increase compared to the same time period last year.
The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.
July alone saw more casualties than in any other month on record since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began documenting the violence in 2009.
The first six months of 2019 had seen casualties drop slightly compared to previous years.
But the violence has surged so far in the third quarter that it yanked the overall total for the year back on par with the bloodiest since NATO withdrew its combat forces at the end of 2014.