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Delicate Diplomacy On Cameron Gulf Arms Tour

(c) Sky News 2012

David Cameron is starting a three-day tour of the Gulf and Middle East today in a bid to cement major UK arms sales and bolster relations with allies in the region.

The Prime Minister will personally spearhead a push to persuade the United Arab Emirates to buy 60 of BAE's Typhoon jets over French rivals in a deal reported to be worth upwards of £3bn.

On Tuesday, he will travel to Saudi Arabia - Britain's biggest trading partner in the region - which is also considering adding to its fleet of aircraft.

Downing Street said the visit - Mr Cameron's second to each country as premier - was part of a wider effort to build a "reinvigorated partnership" between Britain and the region's leaders.

Reinforced military ties are seen as crucial amid continued fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the threat Tehran could seek to badly disrupt oil supplies by blocking the Straits of Hormuz.

Mr Cameron will fly first to a military airbase near Dubai where a number of RAF Typhoons are stationed to promote the aircraft to military and political figures from the UAE.

He will also hold talks with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Prime Minister of the UAE on the potential for a joint work on the next generation of military aerospace equipment.

The Government hopes to secure deals for 100 Typhoons to be sold to the region in the coming year - worth at least £6bn to British firms.

Mr Cameron faces a tough balancing act however as he attempts to secure billions in investment from the oil-rich states while addressing concerns about the human rights records of their regimes.

The Arab Spring has led to an increased focus on largely autocratic rule in many states, including crackdowns on pro-democracy and other protest movements.

The Government has been criticised for failing to condemn abuses and accused of continuing to sell military equipment with insufficient guarantees it would not be used in repression.

But Saudi officials reacted angrily to an "insulting" inquiry into it by the Commons foreign affairs committee, warning it would be "re-evaluating" relations.

"We want to work together with the Gulf countries towards a future that is rich in prosperity, strong in defence and open in its handling and pursuit of political and economic reform," Downing Street said ahead of the visit.

On Wednesday, Mr Cameron will make a short visit to the Middle East before flying home for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Downing Street ahead of the crunch EU budget summit.