LONDON Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Bahrain this week for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council that she hopes will cement stronger ties with Middle Eastern countries as Britain leaves the European Union.
May, who was appointed prime minister shortly after Britain voted to leave the EU at a June referendum, has waged a charm offensive abroad, trying to sell her goal of making the country a leader in trade after Brexit.
"As the United Kingdom leaves the EU, I am determined to forge a bold, confident future for ourselves in the world," May said in a statement before the meeting which brings together the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
She will meet the leaders for dinner on Tuesday and address the plenary session on Wednesday.
"There is so much we can do together - whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the UK or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long-term vision of reform."
Human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have called on May to raise concerns at the meeting in Bahrain, where they accuse the government of attacking the rights to free expression, assembly and association.
"If your government is serious about its commitment to encouraging reform and dialogue, you should use this influence to press the government of Bahrain to put an immediate stop to this repression," they said in a statement.
In her statement, May said the way to help on human rights was to engage "with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform".
"So I hope my visit will herald the start of a new chapter in relations between the United Kingdom and the Gulf."
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Janet Lawrence)