UK lauds Oman role in regional crisis

MUSCAT: Britain appreciates the efforts and initiatives taken by the Sultanate under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in finding solutions to the crises in the region, said Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the UK side at the Omani-British Joint Working Group.

In an interview with Oman News Agency (ONA), he described the Sultanate as “a strategic and trusted partner” and the polices by it under the leadership of His Majesty the Sultan enabled the country to become a link point in the region.

He stressed his country’s keenness to consult with the Sultanate regarding issues in the region as the Sultanate has a “good experience in dealing with various thorny issues” and finding appropriate solutions to them.

Talking about the historic relations between the Sultanate and the United Kingdom, he said these relations are growing in various areas as both sides are keen to explore more fields of cooperation. He affirmed that the UK is very keen to maintain its special relations with the Sultanate in light of changes taking place in the world.

As for the Omani-UK joint military exercise ‘Swift Sword 3’, he said the two sides have been preparing for this exercise since 2012. “This is one of the largest exercises in UK Armed Forces with the participation of 5,500 troops,” he explained.

He said this exercise reflects the mutual confidence between the two countries. “You cannot participate in such a large exercise unless you are working with a trusted partner,” he affirmed.

The UK Minister explained that the exercise tests the capabilities of the UK and Omani forces in dealing with various conditions. He said, “The Sultanate and the UK have strategic partnership in the field of defence and security, and they can defend and support each other.”

He considered the message of this exercise is to get ready for future challenges in the region and enhance mutual cooperation, trust and respect.

Dwelling on Omani-British Joint Working Group, he said that the Group, since its formation in 2010, has been exerting efforts to promote cooperation and partnership between the two countries through regular meetings. He said the Group deals with many issues, seeks to find suitable solutions and deals with issues related to trade and investment.

As for the 14th round of the Group, which was held in Muscat this week, he said the meeting discussed means of enhancing the bilateral relations in the fields of education and adapting academic disciplines that meet the needs of the Omani labour market.

He said the economic and trade relations between the two countries are “in continuous development”, pointing at agreements and partnerships signed between the two sides, including the agreement between the Sultanate and the British Petroleum (BP) on Khazzan Project and the agreement between Oman Drydock and Babcock International.

The UK Minister said the volume of trade between his country and the Sultanate, as well as the joint investments and the exchange of visits between the trade delegation have witnessed a remarkable increase, which reflects the contributions of the Joint Working Group in promoting and enhancing relations between the two countries.

He said the total trade in goods and services (exports and imports) between the Sultanate and the UK reached 3.1 billion pounds in 2017, recording an increase of 92.2 per cent compared with 2016.

He said the UK is the largest investor in the Sultanate with 47.6 per cent of all foreign direct investment in 2017 (worth approximately 8.97 billion pounds).

Alistair Burt said his country supports the efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, pointing out that the only solution for this crisis is dialogue and negotiations.

He said, “This crisis must come to an end soon to stop the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

He said the British government has allocated a sum to support UN organisations and other humanitarian organisations working in Yemen to alleviate the suffering of Yemeni people.

As for the Iranian nuclear deal, he said his country does not share the same assessment with the US regarding this deal, affirming that all parties should adhere to the deal.

As for Brexit, he said: “It is not easy, but I am sure my country will reach a deal with the EU.”

He affirmed that the UK is keen to maintain its political and trade relations with the rest of the European partners. He also affirmed that Brexit will not affect UK’s relations with its non-European partners and allies. -ONA