Liz Truss has thanked the crown prince of Saudi Arabia for his help securing the release of five Britons captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, in their first call since she became prime minister.
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The Foreign Office had been working for months to support those detained, but it is believed the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was crucial in negotiating the release.
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Health minister Robert Jenrick, the MP in Mr Aslin’s constituency, told Sky News the royal had been asked to help because not only was Saudi Arabia “an ally and partner of the UK” but also because it is a country, through its role in OPEC (the group of oil-producing nations), that has an ongoing relationship with Russia.
In a statement about their call, Downing Street said: “The prime minister thanked the crown prince for his personal role in securing the release of five British detainees held by Russia-backed forces in eastern Ukraine last week, to the great relief of their families.”
They discussed their “strategic partnership” on defence and energy security, while Ms Truss also offered the UK’s “continued encouragement for progress in Saudi Arabia’s domestic reforms”, according to No 10.
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Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the UK, but the relationship is controversial because of its record on human rights.
In June, when she was foreign secretary, Ms Truss offered a robust defence of British ties to the Gulf state, stressing that the world is not “perfect”.
She was speaking following the launch of talks on a fresh trade deal between the UK and six Gulf nations.
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Downing Street said the prime minister reiterated her focus on agreeing a strong UK-GCC trade deal in their call on Monday afternoon.
A spokesperson added: “They discussed the strategic partnership between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia across a range of issues, including cooperation on defence and energy security.
“The leaders welcomed progress in ending the conflict in Yemen and agreed on the importance of continuing political dialogue to extend the truce.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi crown prince also offered his “sincere condolences” on the death of the Queen.
“The leaders looked forward to continuing to grow the strong relationship fostered during her late Majesty’s reign”, the spokesperson said.