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British defense minister hails Saudi-UK ties days after imposing sanctions

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The British government privately called Saudi Arabia to praise their bilateral ties a day after sanctioning its senior officials for human rights abuses, The Independent reported on Friday. 

Defense Minister Ben Wallace called his Saudi counterpart to emphasize Britain’s support for the Saudis, The British daily reported, citing Saudi media. The British government decided not to publish the call, but the state-run Saudi Press Agency was less subtle.

In a press release, it reported: “His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, received yesterday a phone call from His Excellency British Defence Secretary, Mr Ben Wallace, during which the partnership between the two countries was discussed, especially in the defence field, and the efforts made by the two countries to enhance regional and international security.”

The report went on to say that Wallace “expressed his country’s appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s role in addressing threats to stability in the region.”

“He also affirmed the country’s government’s keenness to strengthen defence relations between the two friendly countries, especially in the field of military exports to the Kingdom,” the report said. On Monday, Britain announced its first independent sanctions regime. It had previously joined with the UN and EU sanctions, but post-Brexit will now implement its own system.

Of the 49 initial individuals sanctioned, 20 were Saudis involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

On Tuesday, Britain announced it will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia a year after the court of appeal declared that the UK government acted unlawfully by selling arms to the kingdom without first assessing whether they were involved in breaches of international humanitarian law.

An official government review found that airstrikes in Yemen, which breached international humanitarian law, were only “isolated incidents”, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a written statement to the parliament.

By Karim El-Bar

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