British Envoy Back in Riyadh, as Theresa May Rebuffs Calls to Stop Arms Deals With Saudi Arabia

A senior British diplomat is in Saudi Arabia and has met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) outside 10 Downing Street, in central London on March 7, 2018
AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN

 A senior British diplomat is in Saudi Arabia and has met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the first such visit since the international outrage over the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudi state-run news agency says Simon McDonald, who serves as British Prime Minister Theresa May’s special envoy, reviewed bilateral relations and discussed regional and international developments in the meeting with Prince Mohammed on Monday.

A day earlier, McDonald met with King Salman.

May has rebuffed calls from opposition lawmakers to end weapons sales to the kingdom in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. However, in recent days Britain has backed renewed U.S. calls for a de-escalation of the conflict in Yemen.

The U.K. is breaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said Berlin would authorise no further weapons exports until Riyadh had satisfactorily explained Khashoggi's death.

German shipbuilder Luerssen suspended production of coastguard vessels it was building for Saudi Arabia and placed large numbers of staff on short hours this week, blaming uncertainty over whether Berlin would grant future weapons export licences.

Privately-owned Luerssen was commissioned to build the coastal patrol vessels five years ago, and construction began at its Peene Shipyard in 2016.

"Suspending construction and cutting working hours as a direct consequence is a heavy blow to us," said shipyard official Harald Jaekel in a statement. Almost all of Peene's 300 workers would be affected, the statement said.

The uncertainty over future authorisations made production planning impossible, the company added, saying that suspending production was the only way to minimise the resulting risk.

Saudi Arabia makes a major contribution to Germany's defence industry. So far this year, some 400 million euros of exports were approved to the country, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria.