The British prime minister met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, before traveling to Riyadh for a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia have roiled energy markets, driving crude prices above $100 a barrel and ratcheting up pressure on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise output. The U.K. government has said the Middle East trip is part of a broader effort to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and hurt President Vladimir Putin. The U.K. plans to phase out Russian oil imports by year-end.
“The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas,” Johnson said. “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort. We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilize global energy markets for the longer term.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE pump more than 13 million barrels of oil a day between them and are among the few producers with significant spare capacity.
Festering strains in relations with the U.S., however, have complicated Washington’s efforts to rally the Gulf Arab oil producers behind the campaign to isolate Moscow and calm oil markets.
OPEC has resisted calls from major oil importers such as the U.S., Japan and European nations to accelerate production increases. The cartel’s also in an alliance with Russia, known as OPEC+, which both Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they’re committed to.
Johnson has maintained better ties with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed than U.S. President Joe Biden and his visit is widely seen as helping improve relations.
Biden vowed during his election campaign to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” over the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He’s chosen not to communicate directly with Prince Mohammed, who runs the kingdom’s day-to-day affairs, a policy seen as a slight in Riyadh.
Johnson said he would raise human rights in his meetings, including the execution of 81 people in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. But he defended efforts to forge closer ties with the world’s largest oil exporter in a time of crisis.
“I’ve raised all those issues many, many times,” he said. “And I’ll raise them all again today. But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognize the very important relationship that we have.”
During Johnson’s visit, Saudi Arabia’s Alfanar group will confirm an investment of 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in Teesside, northeast England, which aims to produce aviation fuel from waste, Johnson’s office said.
The project will create 700 jobs during construction, due to begin next year, and 240 permanent roles thereafter, it said.
The West’s desire for oil since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 has given Gulf Arab allies new leverage in their push for security guarantees in the face of repeated drone and missiles strikes carried out by Iran-backed proxies.
As well as discussing energy markets, a No 10 spokesman said Johnson and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed had agreed on the need to bolster security, defense and intelligence cooperation in the face of global threats, including from the pro-Iranian Houthis in Yemen.