David Cameron has voiced support for the controversial Saudi-led air-strike campaign in Yemen and dismissed concerns that Riyadh is funneling funds to Islamic State.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Monday, the Prime Minister defended UK’s arms exports to the oil-rich autocracy and said that the UK carefully monitors how the Saudis use British-made weapons.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for our own security. They are opponents of Daesh [Islamic State] and this extremist terrorism,” he said.
“In terms of our arms exports, I think we have some of the most stringent controls anywhere in the world and I’ll always make sure they’re properly operated.”
The UK has sold £5.6 billion in arms, fighter jets and other military hardware to Saudi Arabia since 2010, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).
Last week, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir revealed that British and American officials have access to lists of Yemeni targets and are present in the command and control centers where airstrikes are launched.
Since the war in Yemen broke out in March, nearly 3,000 civilians have been killed and 1 million have been displaced, according to UN figures. Rights groups have criticized the Saudi-led raids for civilian deaths, including hitting Medecins Sans Frontieres clinics and a school for the blind, where Yemen’s Houthi rebels had posted militia.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that the work done by Saudi Arabia is properly targeted and it’s right that we should do that,” Cameron told the BBC.
However, the PM expressed concerns about Saudi-funded training programs and schools around the world.
“We do need to look at where the money… it is already illegal for anyone to fund extremist groups in our country. We ban, proscribe, extremist groups,” he said.
“I think there are deeper connections where you see what is being taught in schools – not perhaps always here but around the world – and the money that is funding those educational materials.”