(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s planned visit to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the UK is unlikely to occur for the next few months, later than initially expected, according to people familiar with the matter.
Officials from the countries had discussed trying to schedule the trip for this month, bu they have now decided to look at later options, the people said.
Work on rescheduling the visit, aimed at promoting investment and security ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia, is still underway, the people said, asking not to be identified as a date hasn’t been made official.
Sunak’s office declined to comment, while Saudi officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Visits and timetables change all the time,” UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told Bloomberg TV at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s anything at all in the timing of visits — diaries often don’t quite work out and other events take place — but we make sure we’re working very closely with our friends throughout the Gulf.”
A visit by MBS, as the Saudi de facto ruler is known, would be his first since 2018. That was before the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, which severely damaged the prince’s global standing. MBS has denied all knowledge of the operation and said those responsible have been tried in Saudi courts.
In the past two years his reputation has improved as world leaders including US President Joe Biden, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and French President Emmanuel Macron have sought Saudi Arabia’s support — albeit largely unsuccessfully — to lower energy prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and find a way to end the war.
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In addition, Prince Mohammed is investing hundreds of billions of dollars at home and abroad to diversify the kingdom’s economy. Western nations are eager to attract some of that money.
Saudi investment into the UK has picked up. The sovereign wealth fund that MBS chairs bought a majority stake in Newcastle United Football Club in 2021, and chemicals firm Saudi Basic Industries Corp has said it invest £1 billion ($1.2 billion) into a green-energy project in northern England.
The UK is one of Saudi Arabia’s main arms suppliers. The Saudis are pressing the UK, along with Japan and Italy, to be allowed to join a project for constructing a new, advanced fighter jet, the Financial Times reported in August.
--With assistance from Emily Ashton and Lizzy Burden.
(Updates with context.)
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