$70 billion buys a lot of Typhoons…
London, 27 Sept. (AKI) - British prime minister Tony Blair has held secret talks with Saudi Arabia in an effort to secure a major arms deal worth up to 70 billion dollars, British newspaper The Guardian reports. However, the Saudis are reported to be demanding three favours, one of which is the long sought-after deportation of Saudi dissidents Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari from Britain, defence, diplomatic and legal sources say.
Blair stopped off in the Saudi capital Riyadh on July 2, the newspaper reports, on his way to Singapore and the bidding for the 2012 Olympics. Three weeks later defence secretary John Reid spent two days in the kingdom, where he tried to talk then defence minister and current crown prince, Prince Sultan, into re-equipping the Saudi air force with the Typhoon, a European fighter plane which British arms company BAE is heavily involved in manufacturing.
Each Typhoon costs more than 45 million pounds [almost 80 million dollars]. Saudi Arabia has previously bought its predecessor, the Tornado, from Britain in the al-Yamamah arms deal, Britain's biggest ever arms contract with a foreign customer. BAE's chief executive was quoted by Flight International magazine as saying just before Blair's trip: "The objective is to get the Typhoon into Saudi Arabia. We've had 43 billion pounds from al-Yamamah over the last 20 years and there could be another 40 billion pounds."
However, negotiations are reported to have stalled because of the three favours. The other two involve British Airways resuming flights to Riyadh, which were cancelled due to security fears, and they want a British corruption investigation into BAE and the Saudi royal family to be dropped. The Crown Prince's son-in-law, Prince Turki bin Nasr is at the centre of a "slush fund" investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, The Guardian said.
The Saudis have been desperately trying to get Faqih extradited. From London he has organised protests in Saudi Arabia calling for constitutional reform in the kingdom, but denies Saudi claims that he supports violence. They also say he was involved in a plot to assassinate newly-crowned King Abdullah, but neither the British Foreign Office or security services are thought to consider him a danger to Britain.
Just before leaving his post as Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal criticised the British government in an interview with the Financial Times, saying he had spent his two and a half years in London "going around in circles" while trying to make the government realise the dangers posed by exiled Saudi dissidents in London who are linked to al-Qaeda. King Abdullah himself has also warned that lack of action from Britain would damage relations between the two countries.