ABU DHABI // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has concluded a six-day visit to Australia aimed at promoting increased security, business, trade and travel relations. Sheikh Abdullah's delegation met with top officials, including Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister.
According to WAM, the state news agency, Sheikh Abdullah agreed to bilateral relations that would be based on "extensive trade and investment" and "expanding high-level contacts". During the visit, Sheikh Abdullah also met with the Australian minister for foreign affairs, Stephen Smith, in Canberra. "Mr Smith thanked Sheikh Abdullah for the critical support and assistance that the UAE provides in hosting Australian Defence Force elements," WAM reported. "These elements, including the Australian National Headquarters for the Middle East, contribute materially towards international campaigns against terrorism, in countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and providing maritime security in the region."
Sheikh Abdullah announced his first official visit to the country two weeks ago, and in an opinion piece published in The National on the occasion of Australia National Day, said: "The UAE and Australia continue to have shared interests in defence and regional security. We have been active partners in the reconstruction of Iraq, and our armed forces continue to operate side-by-side in Afghanistan, contributing to stability and delivering much-needed aid to the Afghan people."
Last year, members of the Australian Defence Force were stationed at Al Minhad Airbase, a permanent, strategic regional presence for the country. Under an agreement, the base provides its military with logistical facilities, including ports. Sheikh Abdullah said in his opinion piece on January 25 that this could expand "the potential for joint training exercises to be conducted between our armed forces".
During the visit, a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism co-operation was signed. The delegation also discussed Iran's nuclear intentions, with Mr Smith and Sheikh Abdullah expressing concern about the emerging threat from extremist groups based in Yemen. Both nations have provided assistance to support development in the country. Sheikh Abdullah also discussed renewable energy and thanked the Australian delegation for supporting Abu Dhabi's bid to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).
Approximately 15,000 Australians live in the UAE, while more than 1,700 Emirati students travel to Australia to study. There are more than 600 Australian companies operating in the UAE. More than 80 direct flights each week link the countries. The delegation also discussed the possibility of UAE passport holders being able to pass through Australia without needing to get a transit visa from the Australian embassy.
Australia is in the process of signing a free-trade agreement with the GCC that promises to have more impact on trade. The delegations agreed that they would meet for a second round of talks at the Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains, which is the UAE's largest investment in Australia. The resort also marks "the first hospitality development outside the UAE by Emirates Hotels and Resorts", according to WAM.