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Blair praises Emirates on Middle East

posted on 17/04/2008: 761 views

The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised the UAE's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Palestinian crisis. In an exclusive interview with The National during his visit to Abu Dhabi as envoy of the International Quartet on the Middle East, Mr Blair said he was struck by the country's commitment to the drive to resolve the 60-year-old conflict. "You don't have to persuade them of the importance at all because they're there and in the thick of it, particularly the support they've given the Palestinians recently,” he said.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid, Minister of Foreign Trade, later confirmed the transfer of US$50 million (Dh150m) to the Palestinians on the orders of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Blair, whose peacemaking initiative is supported by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN, was in Abu Dhabi to draw attention to efforts by West Bank businessmen and Palestinian officials to attract foreign investment to the Palestinian Territories. He appealed for support for a forthcoming investment conference in Bethlehem. The event is backed by the Palestinian Authority, which hopes to attract business leaders from Abu Dhabi and elsewhere in the region.

Highlighting the authoritative status of the UAE and in particular the capital in the Middle East, Mr Blair said: "Abu Dhabi plays a significant part in the whole Palestinian issue.

"The Crown Prince is highly respected and the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah, is one of the smartest guys on the block in this region and the wider world.”

During the interview in his suite in the Emirates Palace hotel, the 54-year-old ex-premier discussed a range of issues, including UAE-British relations and the debate over what it means to be Emirati.

He praised the Emirates as a "beacon to the world” that exerts an influence far exceeding its size. "The UAE is such a landmark ... a beacon for sense, strong economy and a modern way of doing business. It's a great example.” The need to define national identity was not unique to the UAE, he said. "All the countries in the region are facing the challenge of retaining their distinctive identity while modernising and being part of the 21st century economy. I think what most people feel about the UAE is that the leaders get it, that they want to be part of the 21st century.”

He said the UAE, like Britain, had found it difficult to balance being open to the world while retaining a distinctive identity. But he said there were more rewards for erring on the side of openness: "There's no doubt that London is the premier financial centre of the world today, precisely because we're prepared to welcome people in.”

In 2006, while prime minister, he vowed to make the UAE a "priority business partner”. He said this week that ties between the nations were strengthening." People are really enthusiastic about the UAE and the Brits that I speak to think it's a great place to work, do business, even have a family here. It's a fantastic place.” – The National


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