Saudi crown prince canceled UK trip before welcoming Russian leader: Report

Saudi Arabia scrapped plans for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit London earlier this month, days before he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Riyadh, the Financial Times has reported, citing UK government officials.

London and Riyadh had been in negotiations about a potential visit of the Crown Prince, who is also known as MBS, for months already. UK officials said the two sides had been working towards December 3 as a possible date, but the plans were abruptly shelved last week.

Instead, MBS hosted Putin in Riyadh on Wednesday, amid the Russian president’s one-day tour of the region – his first trip to the Middle East since the beginning of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022.

Senior UK officials and MPs were alarmed by the proximity of the Crown Prince’s visit to Britain which was apparently canceled and Putin’s Middle East tour. Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith described the development to FT as “astonishing”, and the apparent postponement as a “snub”.

Another senior Tory MP, Robert Courts, said the postponement of the visit is “a concern because it suggests a UK diplomatic failure in the face of a coordinated diplomatic offensive by Putin”.

“The UK should urgently review the resources and strategy behind its foreign and defense policy to prevent the slide of states towards our strategic competitors,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, however, denied any connection between the canceled visit and the Russian president’s trip, insisting that “anyone familiar with the UK-Saudi relationship will know that the suggestion of a snub is nonsense”.

“The relationship is as strong as it has ever been and will remain so. Those wishing to interpret things differently are sorely mistaken,” he told FT.

The UK Foreign Office neither confirmed nor denied the postponement when reached by FT for comment, with its spokesperson effectively dodging the question.

“It is not for the UK to comment on the diplomatic engagements of other countries. We work closely with Saudi Arabia across a range of areas, including on providing support to Ukraine and addressing the current crisis in Israel,” the spokesperson stated.

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