London, Asharq al-Awsat – King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, started today a 13-day official foreign tour of Europe that includes Britain, Italy, Germany and Turkey. The tour begins with a three-day official visit to Britain.
During his visit, King Abdullah will receive an official welcome from Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, attend a state banquet, meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and attend a dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of London. The King will also meet separately with Prince Charles to discuss the prince’s charities in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Britain are expected to sign a number of bilateral agreements, including: a UK-Saudi joint statement; an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation; and Memoranda of Understanding on vocational education and sports cooperation.
Additionally, the UK-Saudi Arabia Two Kingdoms Dialogue will hold its third meeting today. This year’s topic is “Two Kingdoms, Shared Challenges.” Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal is scheduled to address the meeting, which focuses on key issues that affect both nations.
King Abdullah’s visit is of particular importance in view of the accelerating international and regional changes which need the exchange of views and the coordination of stands between the kingdom and friendly countries, of which Britain occupies a unique position.
British officials welcomed the official visit by King Abdullah which starts today and underlined the political and economic importance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at all levels.
In this regard, Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ visit to Britain “an historic event that is important for a new surge in the firmly-established relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Britain.” He said: “We in Britain are looking forward to King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz’s visit as it will strengthen the existing relations between the two friendly countries in the economic, commercial, cultural, and political fields.”
Shahid Malik, the British minister of state for international development, also welcomed the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ visit, praised the existing bilateral relations, underlined the importance of the kingdom’s role in the Arab world, and praised the Arab peace plan launched by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, giving impetus to the peace process in the Middle East, and achieving permanent peace between the region’s countries.
On her part, Baroness Liz Symons of Vernham, chairwoman of the Joint Saudi-British Trade Council and former British minister of state for foreign affairs, said the “United Kingdom is counting on the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ visit.” She praised the Saudi and British businessmen’s role and called Saudi Arabia “a very important country, not only for the Middle East but also for the world because it is the safety valve in the supplies of energy to many countries in the world in view of its massive reserves of oil and natural gas.”
Commenting on the kingdom’s economic projects, Baroness Symons said the “King Abdullah economic project will create thousands of jobs when it is completed and will also provide the investment incentives for foreign investors.” She called on British businessmen and investors to increase their investments in the kingdom, which is Britain’s large partner in the Middle East.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, member of the British House of Lords, said: “This visit will enhance the chances of fruitful cooperation between the two countries at all levels, in particular the economic ones.” He praised the leading role of King Abdullah in bringing about reconciliation between Muslims and pointed out that the kingdom’s leading and Islamic position enabled it to play an important role in giving impetus to the peace process and stability in the Middle East.
In the same context, Lord Mohammed Patel, member of the House of Lords, said the visit reflects the extent of the progress and firmness of relations between the kingdom and Britain and is a qualitative step in the two friendly countries’ unique relations.
Sir Alan Monroe, chairman of the Middle East Society and former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is at present the vice chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, highly evaluated the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ visit to Britain and the steps taken by Saudi Arabia to encourage and attract foreign investments. He added that foreign businessmen welcomed the investment environments in the kingdom which resulted from this and said that “many of the economic and investment sectors in the kingdom have made good profits, like the banking, petrochemicals, and other sectors” and stressed that the liquidity and positive environments that the kingdom’s government provide serve those wishing to invest in its territories.
Professor Mohammed Abdelhalim, holder of the King Fahd chair for Islamic studies at London University, expressed his view that this “visit is of deep interest among British and Muslim circles due to the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ high status and glorious deeds.” He added that the king’s visit to Britain would strengthen the close relations between the two countries in view of the kingdom’s status and its leading Islamic and regional role as well as its wise policy and its support for the forces of good, construction, and peace.
Iqbal Sacrani, the former secretary general of the British Muslim Council, said the “custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ visit to Britain is an important event.” He praised in this respect the magnificent services the kingdom renders to the Muslims in the world and which include facilitating the performance of the major and minor pilgrimage for all Muslims, in particular the British ones.