JEDDAH, Jan 7: Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, yesterday announced Saudi Arabia’s plan to purchase 72 military aircraft from Britain.
“The delivery (of these planes) will take place very soon and in accordance with a specific timetable,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the crown prince as saying.
Prince Sultan was referring to the Kingdom’s plans to import Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to replace its Tornado and other combat aircraft. Saudi Arabia and Britain signed a deal on purchasing the jets in December 2005.
The deal was reached after talks between Prince Sultan and British Defense Secretary John Reid in Riyadh. Sources close to the talks then said the deal was likely to involve Saudi Arabia buying at least 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, with an option to buy up to 72.
Prince Sultan emphasized the Kingdom’s strategy of purchasing arms from different sources. “We don’t want to depend on a single source for our defense requirements as we want to acquire the best and advanced weapons,” he said while explaining the strategy.
Prince Sultan made the remarks while talking to reporters after opening the headquarters of Prince Muhammad ibn Fahd Youth Development Program in Dammam. He said the program, initiated by the governor of the Eastern Province, would play a big role in developing skills of young Saudi men and women.
He also spoke about the government’s efforts to develop the international airports in Jeddah and Dammam. “There is a serious study on King Fahd Airport in Dammam to develop it further in order to attract more airline companies,” he said when asked about plans to prevent dropout of passengers to neighboring airports.
In comments published yesterday, Prince Suitan called upon the international community to put on pressure on Israel to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, save the Middle East region from the danger posed by its weapons of mass destruction and join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sultan urged the United States and other Western states to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran through peaceful means. “We always call for settling conflicts through peaceful means and respecting international legitimacy,” he added.
Referring to the decision of the last Gulf summit to establish a joint program to develop nuclear technology, Sultan said, “The matter is under study and its objective is to develop a joint program in nuclear technology among the GCC countries for peaceful purposes,” he said.
He said the Riyadh summit had approved a proposal by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to develop Peninsula Shield, a joint military force of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and increase its efficiency. “Studies on this project will be completed shortly,” he added.
Sultan said the succession law issued by King Abdullah last year “was not at all a surprise for Saudis as it came in line with the political reforms introduced by the king”.
The crown prince said the Kingdom was going ahead with its reform program. “Many things in the minds of citizens or discussed in the media are among the ideas that the king is seeking to implement gradually without compromising on the Islamic principles,” he said when asked whether there was a plan to transform the Shoura Council to a fully or partially elected body.
Prince Sultan said Saudi Arabia would continue to stand by Lebanon. However, he voiced fears that certain events in the country would threaten its security and stability. “This is what King Abdullah is afraid of when he emphasized the importance of Lebanese political unity,” he said.
He also referred to Saudi efforts to rebuild Lebanon after the Israeli military campaign destroyed the country’s infrastructure facilities.