March 6, 2018 / 4:01 PM / 9 months ago

UK PM May to hold talks with Saudi Crown Prince at country residence

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May will hold talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at her country residence on Thursday, diplomatic sources said, in another sign of the importance with which London is treating his visit.

The visit to Chequers, a 16th-century manor house 40 miles (60 km) northwest of London, will be in addition to a previously announced meeting at May's London office on Wednesday, the sources said on Tuesday.

Prince Mohammed's visit, part of his first foreign tour as heir apparent, is aimed at persuading Britain that his reforms have made his country a better place to invest and a more tolerant society.

The trip will include lunch with Queen Elizabeth, a dinner with heir to the throne Prince Charles and his son Prince William, and meetings with British intelligence chiefs.

The inclusion of the prestigious trip to Chequers and two audiences with the British royal family demonstrate the extent to which London is prepared to endorse reforms in Saudi Arabia which have loosened social restrictions on women.

The visit is expected to attract protests from human rights campaigners particularly over Britain's licensing of 4.6 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia since the start of a conflict in Yemen where more than 10,000 people have been killed.

Nevertheless, the British government is keen to use the trip to expand their longstanding alliance beyond defence and security, and into two-way trade and investment, eyeing both an expanded market in Saudi Arabia for service sector exports, and attracting Saudi cash to finance domestic projects.

The three-day visit, and a trip to the United States later this month, could also shape Saudi Arabia's decision on where to list oil giant Aramco - something Britain is keen to attract to the City of London - at a time when sources say the chances of London and New York hosting the IPO appear to be receding. (Reporting by William James Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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