Khalifa calls for stronger UAE-Spain ties

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. (WAM)

The President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has asserted the need for strengthening UAE's bilateral relations with Spain. In an interview with the Spanish News Agency, Sheikh Khalifa said that during the visit of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who arrived in the UAE yesterday, a number of bilateral agreements will be signed, including one on military co-operation. The President appreciated the stand being taken by Spain in support of the just Arab cause and said the UAE and Spain share many foreign policy approaches.

Do you see the UAE-Spanish relations growing at a greater pace in the future?

The UAE and Spain have had long relations dating back to the early 1980s. The pillars of these relations were laid by my late father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who had a close friendship with King Juan Carlos. This personal relationship between King Juan Carlos and the late Sheikh Zayed had an enormous impact on our bilateral relations. I can now say that the two countries do enjoy strong ties, a fact that is quite discernable in our close cooperation in the areas of joint investments, energy, education, culture, technology, and media.

Recently, we signed an important agreement on avoidance of double taxation on capital and income. This agreement will not only bolster our trade relations but also lay down a legal framework for ultimately achieving a strategic partnership. Since 2005, there has been a steady growth of 30 per cent in the trade volume, which hit a total of Dh2.33 billion in the second quarter.

The UAE is embarking on a number of major projects that encompass such diverse areas as tourism and infrastructure. How do you see Spain being involved in these projects?

We are keen to develop our relations with Spain in various areas. The UAE has a liberal economic policy that embraces foreign direct investment (FDI) and also encourages transfer of technology. In this context, I welcome Spanish companies to invest in the UAE. They can take up investments in diverse areas as industries, tourism, and energy. They can also take advantage of the whole range of facilities offered by specialised economic zones in terms of services, logistical support, and other benefits.

Both the UAE and Spain can build on their own experience of joint investment in the area of energy and transport. For instance, the International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic) acquired 10 per cent of the Spanish Petroleum Company 15 years ago. This partnership has yielded substantial benefits to the two countries. Therefore, I strongly encourage investors in the two countries to broaden the scope of cooperation by exploring new avenues of investments. Now that we have signed the double taxation agreement, we should bolster economic co-operation and thereby strengthen our strategic partnership.

Do you see Spain playing the role of the UAE's gateway to Latin America and vice versa?

Yes, Spain has strong and historical relations with countries of Latin America. We look forward to cementing ties with these countries, using our close friendship with Spain.

During the upcoming visit of King Juan Carlos, the two countries will sign an agreement on military training and exchange of expertise. Will this open a new era of bilateral defence co-operation?

We are confident the upcoming visit of King Juan Carlos would contribute significantly to our warm friendship and bilateral cooperation. Moreover, it would widen the scope of co-operation, much to the best interest of the people of the two friendly countries. During the visit, a number of bilateral agreements will be signed, including one on military cooperation, which will cover aspects on training and military research.

The Spanish private sector has already shown interest in the developments taking place in the UAE. How do you evaluate that?

The UAE's active participation in Expo Zaragoza 2008 emanates from the great attention we give to water and sustainable development issues. Last year, the UAE launched a multi-billion dollar initiative in renewable and alternative energy. We look forward to enhance the UAE's image in the emerging energy markets worldwide, as well as our ambition to make Abu Dhabi the global centre for future energy. Expo Zaragoza will also enable us to get acquainted with the latest technologies and solutions for future energy.

We welcome co-operation with the specialised companies and institutions from Spain as we seek to increase our ties following signing in last June of a MoU between Abu Dhabi and Spain, which calls for technical co-operation in the fields of renewable energy, transport, environment and photovoltaic [systems].

How do you evaluate potential of co-operation to push the peace process in the region and to achieve a rapprochement among different cultures?

We do appreciate the stand being taken by Spain in support of the just Arab cause, its support to the Palestinian people and recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which has an office in Madrid since 1977.

The UAE and Spain share many foreign policy approaches after signing in February 2007 a protocol for political and diplomatic co-operation and co-ordination. They also maintain a strong co-operation in cultural fields and co-ordinate their efforts to build a cultural interaction between Arab and Western worlds.

I must refer here to the efforts made by the late Sheikh Zayed and His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain for establishing an inter-faith harmony and cross-cultural dialogue. This co-operation culminated in holding a number of events, including the conference on inter-cultural dialogue, hosted by Spain and the establishment of the Casa Arabe (Arab House), under the auspices of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

What is your evaluation of the Middle East peace process?

We are very disappointed with the overall progress in the deteriorating situation, especially in the Palestinian territories due to the continued aggression, occupation and the siege imposed by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank.

In our view, the peace would not be achieved unless Israel accepted the Arab peace initiative which is based on the Security Council and international legitimacy resolutions.