British foreign policy to change reflecting Arab concerns on Middle East
British foreign policy will change to reflect Arab concerns over the Middle East peace process as part of the Coalition's efforts to seal a strategic agreement with the Gulf during the Queen's visit to the region.
By Richard Spencer in Abu Dhabi and Damien McElroy 9:00PM GMT 24 Nov 2010
Whitehall officials said Foreign Secretary William Hague's decision to reach out to Gulf states in an effort to secure better diplomatic and trade ties meant Britain had to "take on board" Arab foreign policy goals.
Requesting better ties would be a two-way street, not just plea for more defence contracts and exports, they said.
"It will be a six lane highway with movement in both directions," said one diplomat. "We have to respond to what Gulf States want. If we want a long-term partnership on foreign policy, then changes in our stance have to be part of it."
24 Nov 2010
The Queen arrived in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, at the start of a five-day visit that will also take in Oman.
Both countries are long-standing allies, where the royal family also has strong personal ties with local leaders. The United Arab Emirates end of the visit was rearranged after a planned tour last year was cancelled at the last minute.
The visit to Oman is to join the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Sultan Qaboos's ascension to the throne.
But the visit has taken on a more significant, and unusually political context both with the change of government in Britain and increasing tensions with Iran a short distance away on the other side of the Gulf.
Mr Hague set improving relations with the Gulf and India as his first policy goals, and both David Cameron, the prime minister, and Liam Fox, the defence secretary, visited Abu Dhabi within a month of taking office.
Iran has threatened to retaliate against western interests in the Gulf in the event of a western-led air strike against sites associated with its nuclear programme. With 100,000 British residents of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the other emirates alone, and a strong British and American military presence, the MoD regards a joint approach with the UAE as vital.
To underline the point, the Queen and Prince Philip will watch a fly-past today (Thursday) of Mirage and F16 fighter jets from the UAE Air Force, joined by four RAF Typhoons. The event is ceremonial, to mark the Queen's first visit to the country since 1979, but the Typhoons will be staying on next week along with elements of the Royal Navy for a joint Air Defence drill in the Gulf, which Tehran will be watching closely.
Officials in both Abu Dhabi and London make no bones about stressing the significance of the defence relationship as the West and its regional allies gear up to a possible confrontation with Iran.
That may mean yet further withdrawal of traditional British support for Israel, with criticism of its government already more marked under Mr Hague than it was under New Labour government.
In another indication of the Foreign Office's new sensitivity to Arab opinion, officials admitted to The Daily Telegraph that policies on the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006, Israel's invasion of Gaza in 2008-9, and its occupation of the West Bank and settlements policy were "motivators" for the Islamic radicalism that they confronted daily in the Gulf.
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