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British leaders eagerly await UAE President's visit

Government departments and business sectors in the UK put emphasis on Sheikh Khalifa's visit.

DUBAI // Leaders and officials from UK government departments and business sectors are focusing their attention on the state visit by the President, Sheikh Khalifa.

"This visit is really important to us. It's absolutely at the forefront of the minds of many major businesses and major parts of government," said Edward Hobart, the British consul general in Dubai.

"There will be several secretaries of state involved in various functions, as well as development agencies from different regions, people seeking inward investment, and the military.

"In terms of areas of partnership such as foreign policy, transport policy, infrastructure investment, health care and other businesses, it's a really important thing."

Sheikh Khalifa was invited to the UK by Queen Elizabeth, who made a state visit to the UAE in November 2010. That the return visit is taking place so soon underlines the enduring strength of the relationship between the countries, Mr Hobart said.

"There are only ever two state visits to the UK a year and the queen doesn't do as many as she used to overseas." he said.

Mr Hobart said: "Having this return so quickly just demonstrates how much emphasis she and her government put on the UAE relationship.

"It's also a rare honour to have Sheikh Khalifa visit the UK in this capacity because he doesn't go around doing these things everywhere either."

He said he expected significant announcements about projects and initiatives during the visit but that the occasion would be important in other ways.

"There will be announcements, I'm sure, because visits tend to create the energy to do that," he said. "But the relationship is a continuous thing - it's maturing, it doesn't come to a conclusion.

"So there will be other things beyond this, there will be things that are discussed or given momentum by this visit that will be concluded in the future."

He said the visit was a symbol of the relationship.

"It's a relationship which has existed for 200 years and, in the UAE format, for 41 years.

"We recognise the benefits for both sides of investing in it because we've got different things which complement each other. What's unusual about this relationship is that Emiratis know the UK very well because they spend a lot of time there."

He said the symbolic aspect of a state visit could bring tangible, practical benefits.

"There's a symbolic benefit as you are getting together the leaders of your two countries in a formal way and making a statement publicly about your relationship.

"But a symbol is really powerful in terms of delivering progress in joint projects, and encouraging and demonstrating to your people how importantly you value the relationship.

"So throughout the public and private sector you're sending a message about the strength of the bilateral relationship and that is a platform people can build on.

"If there are hiccups or misunderstandings you still have this core strength and commitment to each other to fall back on."

He said the key elements of the visit would be a state lunch at Windsor Castle with the queen and Prince Philip; a meeting with prime minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street; the laying of a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey; and tea with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

"The meeting with Prince Charles is obviously very important as he's the heir and is also somebody who knows this region. There will be parallel activities by some of the other members of the UAE delegation."

Sheikh Khalifa begins his two-day state visit to the UK on Tuesday.

 

csimpson@thenational.ae

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