Britain, Saudis discuss Arab hotspots

Uprisings against repressive Middle Eastern governments have spread across the region.

Jeddah: British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday held talks in Jeddah with his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal on hotspots in the Arab world including Libya and Syria.

"At a time of great upheaval and change in the region, our constructive cooperation on regional issues including Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Iran, and the Middle East peace process, is even more critical," Hague told a news conference with Prince Saud in the western port city.

Uprisings against repressive Middle Eastern governments began in Tunisia, and have spread across the region.

On Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is attempting to violently put down an anti-regime revolt, Hague emphasised, "The importance of the Syrian government taking rapid and concrete action to stop the violence and change the situation."

"I made clear my view that President Assad`s proposals for reform need to be implemented quickly and fully if they are to be of any significance," Hague said.

On Yemen, where demonstrators have since January held protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, Hague said, "We encourage all parties to engage in political dialogue... and for an orderly transfer of power”.

Prince Saud, for his part, said that Saleh, who has been hospitalised in Saudi Arabia for over a month, to recover from wounds from a bomb attack on his palace, said "is in good health, generally speaking”.

"We`ve also discussed the situation in Libya," Hague said, emphasising Britain "will continue to take part in the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1973”, which authorised military force to protect civilians.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia`s tiny neighbour to the east, on Tuesday had its first session in a national dialogue, which follows a bloody crackdown on pro-reform protesters earlier this year.

Hague expressed hope that it will "mark the start of a successful and inclusive process based on shared commitment to the future of Bahrain, and which brings the reform needed to ensure stability”.

Prince Saud, whose country sent about 1,000 troops to Bahrain, freeing up local security forces to crush the uprising, said Saudi forces would stay until "the completion of their mission”, and reiterated his country`s rejection of "foreign adventures" in Bahrain, in a reference to Iran.

Hague also referred to the need for a resolution to the long-running conflict between Israel, the Palestinians and various Arab states, saying "Prince Saud and I agree, I think, that the unfolding events in the region show the need for meaningful negotiation”.

In remarks before the visit, Hague said Middle Eastern "governments need to respond to legitimate calls for greater freedom with reform and not repression."

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has responded to protests, which have mainly been centred in Eastern Province, where most of Saudi Arabia`s Shi’ites reside, by cracking down on dissidents, drawing criticism from rights groups and activists.

Bureau Report

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