UK pre­mier throws weight be­hind Saudi Ara­bia in de­ci­sive speech Theresa May ‘de­ter­mined to counter desta­bi­liz­ing Ira­nian ac­tions’ in Mid­dle East

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - ALI­CIA BULLER

Ad­dress­ing lead­ing busi­ness fig­ures on Mon­day at a ban­quet in Lon­don, the prime min­is­ter said she will “pro­vide sup­port” for al­lies in the re­gion given the threat from ter­ror groups.

May said: “If we are to achieve en­dur­ing sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East, we must make an of­fer which sup­ports both the long-term se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity of our key part­ners, and en­cour­ages them to be cham­pi­ons of the global or­der.

“As we are do­ing in coun­tries from Saudi Ara­bia to Jor­dan, we will pro­vide sup­port to help them de­fend and pro­tect their borders and their cities from ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion — from ter­ror­ists to Ira­nian-backed prox­ies.”

The pre­mier said she would also step up ef­forts to help “not just con­tain, but solve con­flicts in the re­gion, from seek­ing po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions in Ye­men and Libya, to bol­ster­ing a united Iraq and work­ing to­ward a two-state so­lu­tion in the Mid­dle East Peace Process.”

She said: “While we will stand firm in our sup­port for the Iran nu­clear deal, we are also de­ter­mined to counter desta­bi­liz­ing Ira­nian ac­tions in the re­gion and their bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­lif­er­a­tion, work­ing with the US, France and Germany in par­tic­u­lar.”

May added: “This sup­port is a mat­ter of ur­gency. As we see with the events of the last few weeks, from Lebanon to the GCC dis­pute, our part­ners see the threats they face as im­me­di­ate and are strain­ing for the means to tackle them.”

Yossi Mekel­berg, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Re­gent’s Univer­sity Lon­don, said the speech shows that May is dis­play­ing her de­fin­i­tive sup­port of Saudi Ara­bia.

Mekel­berg said the tim­ing of May’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Ban­quet at Lon­don’s Guild­hall was also re­lated to con­cerns about Lebanon’s un­sta­ble pol­i­tics, which is fu­el­ing re­gional ri­valry be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran.

“There is a clear de­par­ture in her po­si­tion. She is very clear about what side of the fence she is on … she is sid­ing with Saudi Ara­bia and Jor­dan against Iran and Hezbol­lah,” he said.

“It makes sense be­cause Bri­tish re­la­tions are tra­di­tion­ally closer with Saudi Ara­bia po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally and in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment — with the sit­u­a­tion in Lebanon and Syria — she is more mind­ful that she needs to con­tain Iran.

“It’s re­fresh­ing for the PM to have a clear opinion on it. It’s clear that Iran is not play­ing ball on its nu­clear terms and the UK is not happy. Does it rep­re­sent a change of pol­icy? It’s about clar­i­fy­ing where the UK stands … she has put it in more ab­so­lute terms.”

In the same speech on Mon­day, May blasted Vladimir Putin’s gov­ern­ment for try­ing to “un­der­mine free so­ci­eties” and “sow dis­cord” in the West by “weaponiz­ing in­for­ma­tion” and “de­ploy­ing its state-run me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions to plant fake sto­ries.”

Matthew Good­win, pro­fes­sor in the School of Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of Kent, and as­so­ciate fel­low at Chatham House, told Arab News: “While it is tempt­ing to think that th­ese US and UK (po­lit­i­cal) re­volts were all about big data ma­nip­u­la­tion and Rus­sian bots, the real­ity is far, far more com­plex. The deeper ques­tion that faces mod­er­ate cen­trists across the West is how can they get back on the front foot in terms of ideas and ide­ol­ogy. Many of those who voted for Brexit, Trump and na­tional pop­ulists did so be­cause they sup­port their ideas.”

Ex­perts have been quick to point out the “Churchillian” na­ture of May’s speech — and said part of the aim was also to show strength amid a num­ber of dif­fi­cul­ties at home.

Mekel­berg said: “This is a woman who is in a very pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion … she is be­ing cir­cled by vul­tures who want to weaken her, such as For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Michael Gove.”

Re­fer­ring to May’s re­cent strug­gles with com­plex Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and Con­ser­va­tive Party in­fight­ing, Mekel­berg said: “The tone of her speech is un­usu­ally strong. Her job is hang­ing by a thread and she is try­ing to dis­play a show of strength.

“In light of the dire sit­u­a­tion at home, there are el­e­ments of her try­ing to de­flect the is­sue.”

Ben Mar­till, Dahren­dorf Fel­low in Europe af­ter Brexit at The Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (LSE), agreed that May’s strong and clear po­lit­i­cal stance is de­signed to di­vert fo­cus from a crum­bling party and the rocky Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Why is (she) choos­ing to talk about it now,” he said. “It’s be­cause she has never been in a more em­bat­tled po­si­tion so she wants to change the sub­ject.”

LON­DON: The UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has thrown her weight be­hind Saudi Ara­bia and other “key part­ners” in the Mid­dle East, as she con­demned “ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion” from Iran-backed prox­ies.

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