Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Protests trouble Saudi visit, but Labour insists on business as usual

SAUDI King Abdullah has flown into Britain for a state visit, arousing a sandstorm of controversy, with his claim that the British government has not done enough to counter terrorism, and charges by a conservative think tank that hate literature found in British mosques had been funded by the Saudis.

The monarch has claimed that London's terror bombings might have been averted if the British security services had heeded Saudi intelligence warnings, a claim which the British government denies. He has also declared that the row over bribes and backhanders paid to Saudi officials for arms deals is a "British affair" and not his business.

It was reported that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, now the Saudi king's national security adviser, received payments amounting to £1 billion from BAE systems (former British Aerospace). But the Blair government halted a Serious Fraud Office investigation, just as the Thatcher government squashed a report on the al Yamama deal by the National Audit Office. (There were reports suggesting that not only did Thatcher herself promote that deal but a member of her family may have personally benefitted). In a rare show of independence the Labour government has refused to co-operate in US investigations into the BAE deals. Allies are also competitors, and business is business.

Robert Fisk, a journalist well-known for his Middle East reporting, finds it ironic that King Abdullah should "lecture us on terrorism".

" Weren't most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from – er – Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?" , Fisk asks. "The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy".

"Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we 'share values' with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?"

Fisk reminds us how the Saudi regime backed Saddam Hussein's war on Iran, including the massive gassing of Kurds at Hallabja, with British and US military equipment paid for by the Saudis. He mentions political prisoners, and quotes a description of public beheadings in the Saudi kingdom, though as he says they probably won't discuss these things when King Abdullah dines with the Queen at Buckingham Palace this evening..

What kind of "shared values"?

Huge arms deals and terror intelligence links
· Security threat cited when fraud inquiry was dropped
· Whitehall official questions king's claims

Richard Norton-Taylor
Tuesday October 30, 2007

Arms and intelligence have been at the centre of Britain's unique and close relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades. They still are.
Only last month the two countries announced a deal for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to the desert kingdom for £4.4bn. Whitehall officials said the potential total value of the contract would be much higher, though they will not say whether it might approach the scale of the £20bn-plus al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia negotiated by the Thatcher government and involving the sale of Tornado jets, also made by BAE Systems.
The Eurofighter deal was being put together at the time that a bribery investigation by the Serious Fraud Office involving allegations against BAE was dropped.
Tony Blair at the time made no mention of the arms deal. Instead, he said that the Saudis had privately threatened to cut intelligence cooperation with Britain unless the fraud inquiry was stopped.
Mr Blair went so far as to say that Britain's national security would be at risk unless the fraud inquiry was abandoned.
Yesterday, however, the question of what Britain did with Saudi intelligence surfaced. As King Abdullah arrived in London for a state visit, he claimed that Britain did not act upon information provided before July 7 which he said "may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy". The claims are not new. More than a year ago the parliamentary intelligence and security committee said it had "looked in detail into claims that the Saudi Arabian authorities warned the British agencies [a reference to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ] about the attacks".
Some information was passed by the Saudis about "possible terrorist planning for an attack on the UK". The intelligence was assessed to be "not credible".

The Guardian's intelligence specialist goes on to observe;.
The Saudis, however, have an interest in raising the issue and to be seen to be proactive now in the fight against terrorism. Saudi money helped to prop up the Taliban and fuel the spread of Islamist extremism in the madrasas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, and 15 of the 19 hijackers of the airliners involved in the September 11 2001 attacks on the US were Saudis. A significant number of foreign fighters joining al-Qaida in Iraq are Saudis, according to western military and intelligence agencies. Washington has been critical of what the US has perceived to be Saudi dilatoriness in rooting out those suspected of funding terrorists.

We might add that George Dubya probably does not like being reminded that the Bin Ladens were his business partners not long before Osama hit the news. The Bush administration announced in July that it plans to sell to sell $20bn (£9.8bn) of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, alongside a 25% increase in US military aid to Israel.

Protests tomorrow - beyond Our Ken?

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is a petroleum economist by profession, has said he will boycott the Saudi visit.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has the excuse of paternity leave to give it a miss. But we have not heard from Ken Livingstone, that well-known defender of democracy, women, and gay rights, who is hosting another banquet for the Saudi king at the Guildhall tomorrow. Maybe Ken will take the opportunity to raise a few of the points that won't have raised at the Palace do?

As Peter Tatchell says: "As well as flogging and executing gay people, Saudi leaders are guilty of detention without trial, torture and the public beheading of women who have sex outside of marriage. Migrant workers are de facto slaves. The media is heavily censored. Trade unions, political parties and non-Muslim religions are banned. The country is a theocratic police state."

Labour left-winger John McDonnell asks why the prime minister is prepared to condemn lack of democracy in Burma or Zimbabwe, but "remains silent when it comes to the Saudi dictatorship?" The MP has submitted an Early Day Motion, 2102, in parliament and is also supporting this demonstration tomorrow:

Socialist Youth Network
Youth Wing of the Labour Representation Committee

Wednesday 31st October 6pm – 8pm
Saudi Embassy,

30-32 Charles Street, W1J 5DZ

Speakers include: Yahya al-Alfaifi (Saudi trade unionist),
Katy Clark MP, John McDonnell MP, Marsha-Jane Thompson (SYN Co-Chair), Sandy Mitchell (former British prisoner in Saudi Arabia), Murad Qureshi AM, Peter Tatchell



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