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Britain Receives Saudi Arabia's King


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met Wednesday with Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street as part of his state visit to Britain. The two discussed a variety of bilateral issues. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Britain widely views Saudi Arabia as its closest ally in the Middle East. It also acknowledges what it sees as human rights concerns in the Saudi kingdom. And therein lies the crux of the controversy surrounding the state visit this week of King Abdullah to Britain, the first such trip here since King Fahd visited in 1987.

In their closed-door meeting Wednesday at the prime minister's official London residence, a spokesman for Gordon Brown said the British leader raised issues he believes appropriate, a delicate way of eluding to alleged human rights breaches in Saudi Arabia.

Protesters outside the Saudi embassy in London say they want Prime Minister Brown to publicly air concerns he may have about the issue.

British officials say, not for attribution, that the aging king is slowly bringing forth reforms in the world's largest oil producer.

For the record, Mr. Brown and King Abdullah discussed counter-terrorism, the Middle East, Iraq and Iran.

The British leader sees Saudi participation in a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference, expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland, as crucial.

Five years ago, the king came up with what was called the Arab Peace Initiative, a plan that calls on Arab states to make peace with Israel if it withdraws from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

Britain also sees Saudi engagement on the Iranian nuclear issue as key. Prime Minister Brown believes Saudi Arabia should help build support in more countries for sanctions against Iran. The U.S., Britain and their allies believe Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

In addition to the talks with the prime minister, King Abdullah is also meeting Prince Charles and David Cameron, the leader of the main opposition Conservative party. The king is also attending two banquets in his honor at Buckingham Palace.

King Abdullah and his entourage depart Britain on Thursday.

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