LONDON, March 8, (RTRS): Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the head of the Anglican church in London on Thursday, promising to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reforms, the British faith leader’s office said. Prince Mohammed is making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernising economy and build a wider new trade and investment relationship with Britain — a long-term defence and security ally. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion of millions of Christians globally, received the crown prince at Lambeth Palace in central London, where the two talked for an hour.
“The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond,” a statement from Lambeth Palace said. “The Archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK.”
The two men viewed a selection of early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Holy Quran manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015, which are thought to be among the world’s oldest. Welby also “voiced his distress” at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the statement said. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting a war in Yemen in which 10,000 people have died and 8.3 million people have been left dependent on food aid. Protests over the Yemen war have jarred with a warm welcome from the British government during the visit to London.
On Wednesday Prince Mohammed met Queen Elizabeth for lunch and later agreed to boost trade ties by £65 billion ($90.30 billion) in a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. Earlier this week, Prince Mohammed met Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral, as the Gulf Arab kingdom tries to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam which critics say has inspired Islamist militants worldwide.
Promoting a more moderate form of Islam is one of the more ambitious promises made by Prince Mohammed under plans to transform Saudi and reduce its reliance on oil. In other news, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met British finance minister Philip Hammond at the Saudi embassy in London, a government spokeswoman said on Thursday, without giving further details of the discussions. Prince Mohammed is making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernising economy and build a wider trade and investment relationship with Britain, a long-term defence and security ally. Britain said on Wednesday it would continue to make the case for the partial public listing of Saudi oil firm Aramco to be in London. Meanwhile, Britain and Saudi Arabia want to strengthen a United Nations inspection regime for ships headed to Yemen, the British foreign minister said after meeting his Saudi counterpart in London.
“Today we have agreed to strengthen the UN inspection of shipping in order to ensure that all Yemeni ports remain open to the humanitarian and commercial supplies that Yemen’s people so desperately need,” Boris Johnson told reporters on Wednesday evening, without providing details. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have been stationing naval forces in and around Yemeni waters since 2015.
Western governments approved the show of military force as a way to stop arms reaching Iran-aligned Houthi fighters trying to overthrow Yemen’s internationally recognised government. The de facto blockade has exacted a dire humanitarian toll. The Saudi-led coalition’s ships have prevented essential supplies from entering Yemen, even in cases where vessels are carrying no weapons, Reuters reported last year.
The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) was set up in 2016 to ease delivery of commercial goods through the blockade but has failed to ensure the Yemeni people get the supplies they need. The country, already one of the world’s poorest, is on the brink of famine and in the midst of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people.
Three years of fighting have left more than 10,000 other people dead. London already supports UNVIM in Djibouti with funds and experts. It was unclear what changes are now planned. Saudi-run Al Arabiya television reported earlier that Johnson also said London would seek a United Nations meeting on a political solution in Yemen.