LONDON (Dispatches) -- The UK government privately showered Saudi Arabia’s government with praise a day after publicly criticizing its human rights abuses and targeting it for sanctions, The Independent has reported.
The British government was accused of "calling to apologize” to the regime after some Saudi individuals were included on the foreign secretary’s new "Magnitsky Act” sanctions list on Monday.
Defense minister Ben Wallace is understood to have discreetly telephoned his Saudi counterpart on Wednesday to reiterate the UK’s support for the regime and its work, the paper said.
The call was not publicized by the British government in the UK, but Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency used the opportunity to boast about it in a press statement issued on Wednesday.
"His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, received yesterday a phone call from His Excellency British Defense Secretary [sic], Mr Ben Wallace, during which the partnership between the two countries was discussed, especially in the defense field, and the efforts made by the two countries to enhance regional and international security,” according to a statement on the Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabian media reports that the minister "expressed his country’s appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s role in addressing threats to stability in the region”, adding: "He also affirmed the country’s government’s keenness to strengthen defense relations between the two friendly countries, especially in the field of military exports to the Kingdom.”
The call comes as Liz Truss, the British international trade secretary, announced the lifting of a ban on British arms exports to the oil-rich country. A review of the sales launched by Truss on the orders of a court found "possible” war crimes were being committed by Saudi Arabian forces in Yemen but said they were likely "isolated incidents” because they had all happened in different places and different ways.
Layla Moran, a candidate in the ongoing Liberal Democrat leadership contest, told The Independent: "It looks like the UK government took action against Saudi individuals one day, then called to apologize privately the next.
"This sends completely the wrong message to nations and individuals involved in human rights abuses around the world.
"The government needs to decide once and for all what kind of global nation they intend the UK to be: a global champion of liberal values or an apologist for human rights abusers.”
Twenty Saudi nationals were targeted for sanctions in the measures unveiled on Monday, in addition to individuals from Russia, Myanmar and North Korea.