Boris Johnson Travels to Saudi Arabia for Oil Diplomacy

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LONDON — Stepping up the search for alternatives to Russian energy, Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on Wednesday visited Saudi Arabia in hopes of persuading the oil producer to boost output and relieve pressure on global markets.

But at home, critics had another take on Mr. Johnson’s efforts to reduce western reliance on Russia’s President, Vladimir V. Putin: Going from one dictator to another.

With Europeans seeking to wean their economies off supplies of Russian fossil fuels, Mr. Johnson has described Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which he also visited on Wednesday, as “key international parties.” The world needs to “deal with the new reality” following the invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Johnson said before leaving London.

But his visit to Saudi Arabia comes just days after the country executed 81 people. And Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, also approved the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, according to a U.S. intelligence report.

Speaking in Parliament in London on Wednesday, Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, accused Mr. Johnson’s government of having a failed energy policy and said the prime minister had “gone cap in hand from one dictator to another on a begging mission to the Saudi prince to bail him out.” Mr. Johnson was, she said, relying on a “murderous dictator to keep the lights on and pumps open.”

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, responded by saying the government had consistently raised human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia, applied sanctions against Mr. Khashoggi’s killers and would “never allow our moral red lines to be blurred.”

But on Tuesday, one of Mr. Johnson’s own lawmakers, Crispin Blunt, condemned the recent executions in Saudi Arabia, appealing to the prime minister to make it clear in Riyadh “how appalled” friends of the country were.

Mr. Johnson’s hectic diplomacy exemplifies the dilemmas and obstacles faced by Western leaders if they hope to limit the economic impact on their citizens from reducing reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.

Though Britain is not itself a particularly big importer of Russian energy, other European nations are — and the price of oil and gas has spiked. Big producers in the Gulf could significantly help western European economies by boosting their output but do not have any obvious economic incentive to do so.

Nor are they necessarily aligned diplomatically. Before heading to Riyadh, Mr. Johnson landed in the United Arab Emirates which, along with China and India, abstained from a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Britain’s government has criticized human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia — including the executions conducted over the weekend — it has done so less stridently than many other countries.

Ahead of Mr. Johnson’s visit, Downing Street said that the prime minister would raise Britain’s objections to capital punishment with Crown Prince Mohammed, but it would not commit to do the same over Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. British government officials played down expectations that the meetings would produce instant results, presenting them, instead, as part of a longer-term process.

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