LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the head of the Anglican church in London on Thursday, promising to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reforms, the British faith leader’s office said.
Prince Mohammed is making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernising economy and build a wider new trade and investment relationship with Britain – a long-term defence and security ally.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion of millions of Christians globally, received the crown prince at Lambeth Palace in central London, where the two talked for an hour.
“The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond,” a statement from Lambeth Palace said.
“The Archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK.”
The two men viewed a selection of early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Koran manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015, which are thought to be among the world’s oldest.
Welby also “voiced his distress” at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the statement said. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting a war in Yemen in which 10,000 people have died and 8.3 million people have been left dependent on food aid.
Protests over the Yemen war have jarred with a warm welcome from the British government during the visit to London. On Wednesday Prince Mohammed met Queen Elizabeth for lunch and later agreed to boost trade ties by 65 billion pounds ($90.30 billion) in a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.
Earlier this week, Prince Mohammed met Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral, as the Gulf Arab kingdom tries to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam which critics say has inspired Islamist militants worldwide.
Promoting a more moderate form of Islam is one of the more ambitious promises made by Prince Mohammed under plans to transform Saudi and reduce its reliance on oil. ($1 = 0.7198 pounds) (Reporting by William James, Editing by William Maclean)