Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held secret talks with Saudi rulers discussing a big arms deal, Foreign Office documents have revealed.
Thatcher met King Fahd in 1985 ahead of the first instalment of the £40bn Al-Yamamah deal, one of UK’s largest arms deal, to sell Tornados and other aircraft.
A “secret” letter was sent by Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary and foreign policy adviser, Charles Powell, to the Foreign Office on 1 April that year.
He wrote: “We should not add anyone to the prime minister’s party for the visit to Riyadh. To include someone from MoD sales would only serve to draw attention to the Tornado aspect (given that there will be 25 journalists aboard the aircraft).
“I am copying this letter to Richard Mottram (Ministry of Defence). It is classified secret because of the Tornado aspect.”
To this, Mottram, private secretary to the then Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, replied: “It seems unlikely that Prince Bandar would seek to engineer such a meeting unless something positive was likely to come out of it: otherwise he runs the obvious risk of embarrassing both the prime minister and King Fahd.”
Following the letter exchanges, the UK and Saudi defence ministers signed a memorandum of understanding in London for 72 Tornados, 30 Hawk training aircraft and a whole range of weapons, radar, and spares as well as a pilot-training programme in September 1985.