British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended on Wednesday his decision to visit Saudi Arabia where he is seeking increased supplies of oil, saying ties with the country were very important and promising to raise human rights issues.
Johnson arrived in the United Arab Emirates and will later visit Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to secure additional oil flows to replace Russian hydrocarbons and increase diplomatic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
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His visit has drawn criticism from lawmakers and campaigners, coming days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in its biggest mass execution in decades.
Asked about criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Johnson said:
“I’ve raised all those issues many, many times over the past … and I’ll raise them all again today.
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“But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognise the very important relationship that we have … and not just in hydrocarbons.”
He highlighted a new Saudi investment in a green aviation fuel project in Britain.
“That is the kind of thing that we want to encourage. (It)doesn’t in any way mean that we can’t stick to our principles and raise those issues that we all care about,” he said.
Johnson said the West had made a mistake in allowing itself to become dependent on Russian oil and gas, and that had effectively allowed Putin to hold them to ransom.
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He promised to set out a new national energy strategy next week.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups, the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.
The number of executed surpassed even the toll of a January 1980 mass execution for the 63 militants convicted of seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, the worst-ever militant attack to target the kingdom and Islam’s holiest site.
It wasn’t clear why the kingdom choose Saturday for the executions, though they came as much of the world’s attention remained focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine — and as the U.S. hopes to lower record-high gasoline prices as energy prices spike worldwide. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly plans a trip to Saudi Arabia next week over oil prices as well.
The number of death penalty cases being carried out in Saudi Arabia had dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, though the kingdom continued to behead convicts under King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Reuters with additional input by GVS