LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia, where he is seeking to boost oil supplies, saying ties with the country were very important and vowing to raise human rights issues.
Johnson arrived in the United Arab Emirates and will later visit Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to secure additional oil flows to replace Russian hydrocarbons and increase diplomatic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
His visit has drawn criticism from lawmakers and activists, days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in its biggest mass execution in decades.
When asked about criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Johnson said:
“I’ve raised all of those issues many, many times in the past…and I’ll raise them again today.
“But we have very, very long-standing relationships with this part of the world and we have to recognize the very important relationship that we have … and not just in hydrocarbons.”
He highlighted a new Saudi investment in a green aviation fuel project in Britain.
“That’s the kind of thing we want to encourage. (That) doesn’t mean in any way that we can’t stick to our principles and raise those issues that concern us all,” he said.
Johnson said the West had made a mistake in allowing itself to become dependent on Russian oil and gas, and that had effectively allowed Putin to hold them to ransom.
He promised to establish a new national energy strategy next week.
(Reporting by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper)