x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Time for business on final day of Sheikh Khalifa's UK visit

President and his delegation hold day of meetings at Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and foreign office, bolstering ties with an old friend.

Britain's prime minister David Cameron greets UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed at 10 Downing Street.
Britain's prime minister David Cameron greets UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed at 10 Downing Street.
LONDON // After a day of ceremony on Tuesday, it was down to business for Sheikh Khalifa on his historic state visit to Britain yesterday.

And business was brisk. It included a long day of meetings between the UAE delegation and British officials at Buckingham Palace, the foreign office and 10 Downing Street, residence of the British prime minister David Cameron.

UAE and British officials signed three agreements for co-operation.

The two governments also announced they would jointly devote £2 million (Dh11.4m) to tackle sexual violence in Somalia ahead of a conference in London on the troubled African nation next Tuesday.

Both sides lauded the visit, which ended yesterday, as evidence of the close and historic ties between the countries.

Mr Cameron said the relationship with the UAE was one of "lasting and strategic importance" to the UK. Talks between he and Sheikh Khalifa focused on ties and regional challenges facing both countries.

"The two leaders agreed that the relationship had developed significantly in the past year, especially building a deeper and substantive defence partnership and significant new commercial links," a spokesman for Mr Cameron said.

"They discussed the action that the international community should take on the most pressing issues in the [Arabian] Gulf and wider region including to address the challenge of Iran's nuclear programme, to end the appalling and dangerous conflict in Syria, and to bring new momentum to the peace process between Israel and Palestine."

But it was not all business. Sheikh Khalifa laid a wreath in Westminster Abbey's Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and later had a jovial private meeting with Prince Charles.

Earlier, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the British foreign secretary William Hague signed two agreements.

The "Dialogue of Values" will be supervised by the UAE-UK Taskforce, which was set up in 2010, and seeks to strengthen cultural and political relations between the two countries.

The "National Qualification Frameworks", was signed to promote and facilitate students' exchange and recognition of the two countries' respective educational qualifications.

Mr Hague said the agreements provided a "new forum" for exchanging ideas. Sheikh Abdullah said they provided an opportunity to "advance new and innovative" avenues of cooperation.

He and Mr Hague also discussed bilateral relations generally and regional issues of mutual concern, Sheikh Abdullah said.

"We discussed how we can use this historic visit as a platform for further growth in bilateral relations and how the UAE and the UK can work together to tackle the appalling humanitarian disaster in Syria."

Mr Hague said the visit was evidence of the "close ties" between the two countries and said the UK saw the UAE as an "essential ally".

"The UK has a long history of friendship and cooperation with the United Arab Emirates. They are an essential ally in a region of critical importance," Mr Hague said.

"Our countries work closely on Afghanistan and Syria. We share deep concern about the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria. And we remain fully committed to bringing an end to the repression and human suffering caused by Assad's brutal regime."

Earlier in the day, Sultan Ahmed Jaber, CEO of Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy company, and Shaun Kingsbury, CEO of the British Green Investment Bank, signed an agreement at Buckingham Palace that saw the two parties agree to consider investments in green energy projects in Britain over the next seven years

Masdar has already invested GBP500 million in the UK's London Arrat, the world's largest offshore wind farm. Yesterday's agreement could see the company invest even more heavily in what Mr Jaber called a collaborative investment effort that will not only strengthen bilateral clean energy ties, but "has the potential to pay healthy dividends for both countries."

The Green Investment Bank is a public company formed with GBP3 billion of UK government money and set up to accelerate the UK's transition to a greener economy.

The different agreements show the depth of UK-UAE bilateral relations, UAE officials said yesterday.

Dr Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs and joint chairman of the UAE-UK Taskforce, said the state visit had provided a "special dimension" to the development of bilateral ties.

The UAE-UK Taskforce was set up in 2010 to improve bilateral relations. Since then, the UK has moved up to become the UK's 13th largest export market - up three places and a 9 per cent increase on 2011.

FCO officials say bilateral trade is on target to reach GBP12 billion by 2015, a target set by the Taskforce.

More than 100,000 Britons live and work in the UAE and around one million visited the emirates in 2012.

The two-day state visit "has ticked the boxes", said Neil Partrick, an Arabian Gulf specialist and visiting fellow with the Royal United Services Institute.

"There has been a very large Emirati entourage of senior officials in addition to the president responsible for key portfolios, whether its diplomacy, whether its trade and business related issues," Mr Partrick said.

"Their interaction across the board with British officials, as well as the highest level engagement of the Queen and the president will all have helped deepening a historically close relationship."

Mr Cameron also raised British concerns with Sheikh Khalifa about allegations of mistreatment by three Britons found guilty of drugs charges in Dubai and sentenced to four years in jail in the UAE.

The issue has featured prominently in British media coverage of the visit, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FCO, also saying it had pressed UAE officials on the matter.

Police deny any wrongdoing and said they conducted an internal investigation into the allegations that found them to be baseless.