ABU DHABI // The Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, last night ended a two-day visit to the UAE, in which he held talks on issues including renewable energy and regional security concerns. After a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, on Wednesday evening, Mr Rudd travelled to Dubai yesterday to meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE.
Jeremy Bruer, the Australian ambassador to the UAE, described the visit as very successful and reflective of the "strong and meaningful" relationship between the two countries. Mr Rudd and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid touched on the global financial crisis and environmental initiatives, such as the development of green buildings, Mr Bruer said. "Mr Rudd was very excited and interested in relations and applauded the developments which have taken place here," he said.
As well as strong trade relations, Mr Bruer said the two countries shared similar views on global and regional security. "There is also a lot of common ground there on environmental issues, such as renewable energy," he added. "Mr Rudd has spoken of a renewable energy revolution taking place in Australia." In March, the first Australia-UAE Dialogue is to be held in Abu Dhabi, which organiser the Lowy Institute for International Policy hopes will become an annual event.
Mr Rudd made a surprise visit to about 800 Australian troops in the volatile Oruzgan province in Afghanistan. He flew into Abu Dhabi on Wednesday before travelling to Afghanistan, a trip that was kept secret for security reasons. Yesterday, Mr Rudd toured the Australian warship HMAS Parramatta, docked in Abu Dhabi, and met representatives from Masdar, Abu Dhabi's sustainable energy initiative. He was due to return to Australia today.
His visit coincided with a two-day symposium on Australia and the Arab world. Participants yesterday addressed topics including Arab perspectives on Australian diplomacy in the region, trade relations between Australia and the GCC, Islam and Arab communities in Australia. Speakers included Dr Saeed al Shamsi, the UAE's Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand; Ali al Kazak, the former Palestinian ambassador to Australia, NZ and the South Pacific region; and Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Dr al Shamsi described Australia as the world's most successful example of multiculturalism. "They do not put the nation before people's origin, encouraging all ethnic groups to keep to their roots," he said. "This gives the nation more creativity, more understanding of other cultures." After the September 11 attacks, as the number of students from the Arab world travelling to the US dwindled, many looked to Australia for foreign education, Dr al Shamsi added.
Mr Kazak described Australia as a "major player" in the Middle East but he was critical of what he called Australia's history of "full support" for Israel, taking its cues from other western countries. "Arab countries should not just be satisfied with blaming Australia," he said. "Rather, they should work hard to push the Australian position to be more just and fair." Prof Akbarzadeh spoke of the two countries' common ground, particularly in education. And he said while both were tightly allied to the US, they are becoming more independent.