By R. Ramesh
Dignified diplomacy, stunning simplicity and honest humour. That aptly describes Dominic Jermey, who recently took over as Britain’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
The ambassador on Thursday shared his views on diverse and controversial topics in an exclusive interview with The Gulf Today stating that Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh’s proposed state visit to the UAE next month will be a celebration of strength of the historic relations between the two countries.
On UAE’s demand for UK to ease travel procedures for its citizens, the envoy insisted that vigorous discussions were going on regarding the subject. He noted that his government was working to make the system as efficient and user-friendly as possible for the Emiratis.
Asked about a solution to the Palestinian sufferings, the ambassador said that all kinds of sabre rattling should end immediately and the peace talks allowed to move on. He pointed out that the international community was disappointed with the settlements activity by Israel and conceded that the settlements are illegal and make the peace negotiations harder.
He appreciated the UAE stand on islands issue saying that dialogue, as pursued by the UAE, was the best way out.
On Iran, the ambassador cautioned that Tehran getting nuclear arms could pose a threat to regional stability.
Dominic Jermey was until recently a Managing Director of UK Trade and Investment, where he was responsible for supporting the UK's innovative business sectors. He has served in Afghanistan and Pakistan in various capacities.
In an impromptu break during the interview, the down-to-earth ambassador praised Indian musician AR Rahman saying that he loved his songs. He sang the first lines of “Maa Tujhe Salaam,” and blurted a few words in chaste Hindi.
Excerpts from the interview:
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh are paying a state visit to the UAE next month. This is their first visit to the Gulf region for over 30 years. What significance does it hold for UAE-UK relations?
We see it as a celebration of strength of the historic relations between the two countries. The UAE and Britain have links dating back many hundreds of years. The royal couple will meet President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. As we strengthen our friendship for the future, this visit celebrates the depth and breadth of those ties. She will also be interacting with leaders from Muslim faith.
Such top-level visits are also a continuing process. Within weeks of taking over as head of the coalition government, British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the UAE, indicating that the friendship is based on a unique, shared history and common interests.
The UAE wants UK to ease travel procedures for its citizens. There has been lack of reciprocity from the British side on this aspect!
Vigorous discussions are going on regarding this subject. When I came to the UAE, I had a valid visa, which is part of the requirement. And that’s fine. We have specific requirements for the GCC and other nations. We are working to make the system as efficient and user-friendly as possible for the Emiratis.
It is well known that Israel has deadly nuclear weapons. But Britain hardly ever raises this issue. When it comes to some other countries, say Iran, the approach is different. Why?
If Iran wants to develop a civil nuclear programme, it is alright. We have been working with the UAE, Jordan etc on such lines. But the problem with Iran is that its actions do not indicate such a civil nuclear programme. Tehran is not engaging the International Atomic Energy Agency. They have to answer questions on the nuclear programme.
There are three points on this subject. The sanctions against Iran are imposed by the United Nations and even Russia and China are part of it. Iran getting nuclear arms can be a threat to regional stability. Iran has stated that Israel cannot exist. That kind of policy can raise concerns.
So what’s the solution to the nuclear issue?
The signing of the non-proliferation treaty. We want all, including Israel, to sign the NPT.
The UAE has been striving for a peaceful solution to the issue of three islands of Abu Moussa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs occupied by Iran. What is Britain’s stand on this?
Dialogue, as is being pursued by the UAE, is the best way out.
Do you really feel a negotiated, peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem is possible?
Within a year, we see some kind of resolution to the Palestinian problem. It is the responsibility of all of us in the international community to work towards this.
We want to see a democratic, stable and viable Palestinian state. We have a “head of steam” approach in order to push forward the peace process. There should not be any more sabre rattling from any sides. We should help the parties involved achieve the peace objectives.
We have always been clear that a fundamental requirement of the peace process is the recognition of Israel’s right to exist. But the key issue today remains for the Israeli government to freeze settlement activity urgently so that talks can continue to achieve the real price of a peace deal of a secure Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
Calling for a freeze on settlements is not a precondition to talks. Settlements are, however, illegal and they create facts on the ground making negotiations harder.
Islamaphobia seems to be on the rise in UK!
We have three million Muslims in Britain. Some media coverage on this subject has not been helpful. We are very clear that racism or any such form of bias is not acceptable in our society. The UK is the largest centre for Sharia compliant finance.
The UAE-UK Task Force was established in July, 2010, to strengthen the ties between the two countries. What have been the achievements so far?
The task force was established in July following the visits of British Prime Minister David Cameron to the UAE, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to the UK, with the intention of further strengthening the ties between the two countries.
The UAE is a very important player in the Gulf Co-operation Council and Arab League. The historical links and shared values between the two countries provide an excellent foundation for cooperation. The idea is to build on these to deliver mutually beneficial objectives.
The task force agreed on a range of areas in which the two countries would look to extend and deepen cooperation, including defence, trade and investment, energy and climate change, international development; culture, education, health and sport.
There have been lots of idea exchanges and the signals are quite positive.
Trade and investment is at the heart of bilateral relationship. The UAE is UK's 13th largest export market. Is it business as usual or recession has had any major impact on this relationship?
Our goal is to build concrete steps towards realising the ambition of increasing bilateral trade across all sectors to £ 12 billion by 2015, excluding oil and defence. I am confident that the target will be reached even earlier than that.
Where does it stand now?
The present figure is somewhere around £ 7 billion. Trade and investment is at the heart of our bilateral relationship. The efforts on this front are concrete. Joint Economic Committee meetings are held. We are talking to various business groups, including various chambers of commerce. We are looking at a wide range of sectors including IT and financial services.
You mean there has been no major impact of recession?
Setback, yes. But the UAE transparency is much better understood in the UK. There is scope for much more British investment. The Masdar Initiative will take off this month in London and the prospects are good. Also, the steps initiated by Dubai World sent a solid signal. Concerns can be addressed and the outlook is positive.
How do you see the future of UAE-UK relations?
Well, more than 130,000 British citizens live and work in the UAE. There are 140 direct flights. Over a million British nationals visit the UAE every year. The bond is strong already. And it only strengthens by the day.