London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, met British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in London yesterday to discuss bilateral relations. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Saudi state visit and on the eve of the meeting between King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today. Middle East issues are expected to top the agenda of this first meeting between them.
Prince Saud and Miliband discussed the most prominent Middle East issues, foremost of them the international conference for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict that is scheduled to be held in the United States next month. They also discussed the Iranian nuclear dossier and the Iraqi issue. The two officials did not make any statements to correspondents after their private meeting which was not scheduled beforehand.
A high-ranking official in the British Foreign Office said the international peace conference was one of the most important issues being discussed by British and Saudi officials, adding that the two sides “agree that the way forward regarding a solution to the (Arab-Israeli) conflict is to bring the parties to the conflict together.” He admitted however that Britain has not yet seen the agenda of the conference to be held in the United States and said that Saudi Arabia and Britain “hope that something real and solid will come from the meeting.” He added that “Saudi Arabia has a pivotal role in this issue and we welcome it” and praised the Arab initiative launched by King Abdullah in 2002 at the Beirut summit.
The high-ranking official went on to say that the state visit by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the high-level Saudi delegation comes “at an important moment in the history of relations between the two countries”, particularly after the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques ascended to the thrown before two years and Brown became prime minister last summer. The official, who asked to remain unidentified, added that “there are several political interests, including action in the Middle East peace process and reaching solutions in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran.” He stressed that “Saudi Arabia has an important role to play in the region” and added: “We learn from each other and we need more cooperation between us in the face of the international challenges.” He pointed out that confrontation of extremism is the most prominent field where there must be cooperation and praised the “Saudi efforts to win hearts and minds and prevent extremism and this is something that we can learn from.” This was a reference to the Saudi reform program for those involved in extremism in Saudi Arabia.
It is noted that Prince Saud Al-Faisal received Miliband at “Claridges” Hotel in the center of the British capital. The closed meeting was unconventional since it was not held at the British Foreign Office. The British secretary was the one who went to the Saudi guest after cutting short his paternal vacation so as to hold the meeting. The two officials were due to meet at the “Two Kingdoms’ Forum” the day before yesterday but Miliband was forced not to attend as he was preoccupied with the birth of his second adopted son in the United States. Though the British Foreign Office announced last Monday that Miliband would take a two-week paternal leave and would not carry out any official duties, he still met and held consultations with Prince Al-Faisal. Prince Muhammad Bin Nawwaf, the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and several Foreign Office officials attended the meeting.