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رغبة منا بالتعرف على مستوى رضاكم عن موقعنا وبهدف تطويره وتحسينه، فقد قمنا بتصميم استبيان سريع لقياس مدى الرضا عن موقع دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة روعي في تصميم الاستبيان أن يكون قصيرا وسريعا كي لا نطيل عليكم، وعليه نرجو منكم التكرم باستكماله عن طريق الرابط التالي
استبيان رضا المتعاملين عن موقع دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة

Transcript of an interview given by UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to the London-based Arabic daily Al Sharq Al Awsat

posted on 20/11/2006: 1919 views



Q: Two years after the death of Sheikh Zayed, one senses an overlapping between the previous era, marked by significant reforms in the areas of politics and development, and the current era under your leadership, with growing ambitions and aspirations. Does this over-lapping provide any thrust to come up with new formulae for the handling of responsibilities or do you feel simply that the sustaining of Sheikh Zayed's rich legacy adds to your expanded responsibilities in the period ahead?



A: It is not just a feeling, but a reality. Activity in any given society is not undertaken within isolated or separate circles but as part of a well-linked chain, provided that the society's objectives are clear and specific and as long as the transition process is smoothly taking place. In the case of the UAE, both requirements are met and, therefore, an overlapping is something that is not only expected but is also desired. We are not starting from scratch - we still take our inspiration from that rich experience of the past to continue serving our country and our people.

There is no doubt that the achievements made during the reign of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan put additional duties upon us, as we need to safeguard the achievements made and to continue with the development and protection of the (UAE) federation in such a way as to enable it to adapt to the rapid changes in regional and international affairs.

Perhaps the most important legacy left by Sheikh Zayed is the clarity of the goals that he laid down. Though governed by development needs and standards, those goals are in essence are driven by humanity and by our deep-rooted traditions. They reflect the special characteristics of the UAE citizen, who is a proud Arab and Muslim.

In my speech last year on the occasion of the federation's 34th anniversary, I said that we are entering a new era we called "the enabling era", which is distinct from the previous "foundation era". I said that both eras compliment each other, seek to reach the same goals and ends.



Q: In the speech to which Your Highness refers, you launched an initiative to boost the legislative process by changing the way in which members of the Federal National Council, FNC, are selected and by giving the Council more powers, as a first step towards direct elections in the future. Isn't that a small step when compared to the achievements made by the UAE in political, economic and social fields? Was that initiative driven by domestic needs or by regional and international developments?



A: One of our key objectives in the next stage is to lay the groundwork for the emergence of a more active UAE citizen. A nation is built by the thought and effort of its own citizens, through a set of means necessary for any given end, so as to enhance unity, to maintain stability, to meet citizens' aspirations and to embrace the rapid changes witnessed locally, regionally and internationally. It was necessary to increase the experience of the FNC, and to move it to a stage where it will be more representative, and will interact more closely with the rest of the country and with the affairs of its citizens.

We aspire for a situation in which the values of participation and Shura (consultation) are accentuated so as to enable the Council to shoulder its responsibility as a legislative body that supports social changes, through representatives with an undisputed allegiance to their homeland who are committed to work for the benefits of the country and its political system.

The first stage will see citizens electing half of the members of the FNC via electoral colleges. The other half will be selected using

the current mechanism which will be phased out gradually to reach a fully-elected council. The experiment is neither dictated by

others nor imitated. It is purely a national step, necessitated by national interests and priorities. As the UAE is an active

player both regionally and internationally, it is natural that such national interests will, sometimes, be influenced by regional



and international developments.



Q: Some people see "gradual progress" in strengthening the parliamentary experiment as a polite term for "hesitation" in granting the right of suffrage. What are the reasons behind this gradual progress, despite the fact that UAE has all the ingredients to adopt a fully-fledged election process?



A: We in the UAE fully believe that change does not tolerate haste when it is fundamental, systematic and tied to

the nation's destiny. Like every other thing in life, it has to be well-calculated, gradual and in tune with the society's

nature, orientations, aspirations and demography.

We have been reliant on gradual progress since the inception of the UAE. Our economy has been evolving gradually, so have our educational, legal and social systems. All the fundamental elements of society are gradually progressing. The philosophy adopted by the late father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may Allah bless his soul, was based on patience and not jumping to solutions with slim chances of success. He often stated:: "What is accepted today may not be accepted tomorrow". That's why there is no need for rushing that may lead one to stumble. Gradual steps in elections were an extension to that philosophy in order to provide the right environment and to finalise the legal basis for a full electoral process.

Gradual progress is also positive in that it enables government entities, semi-government entities, decision-makers and experts to continuously evaluate the experiment and to introduce changes whenever necessary. Electing half of the FNC members

will certainly add more national responsibilities (to our citizens) and oblige voters to elect competent representatives. We view FNC membership as a matter of loyalty and responsibility.



Q: To what extent are you satisfied with the citizens' reaction to that move?



A: The reaction of our citizens has been great - even from those who expressed some reservations. As everybody has seen in the media, all men and women of the UAE welcomed the move. At the end of the day, we are working to promote a culture that is based on a multiplicity of views and on accepting others' opinions.



Q: How long this transitional stage will take until citizens are able to exercise their right to full participation in selecting

their representatives in the FNC?



A: This is not a transition governed by the passing of time. We are, rather, at a founding stage, which is set to develop in transitional steps which are affected by the results of the practice itself and by what is agreed and adopted by the people. Although we pro-actively launched the initiative, the timeframe for moving from one stage to another will be a faithful expression of the recommendations and ideas which will have been generated by public opinion. And that would be the essence of the empowerment phase, or, in other words, the role of the government would be limited to preparing the necessary

inventive environment for boosting the status and effectiveness of citizens.



Q: Will reform be limited to the parliamentary aspect or will it be extended so as to include other aspects

such as education, curricula and civil and media freedom?



A: You may well know that all of our social structures are currently being subjected to a comprehensive review of their philosophies, goals, laws and means. As for education, we have launched truly radical changes to create and develop an educational structure that would be responsive to the needs of the relevant phases, and will strengthen the role of knowledge and our human resources capital so as to drive economic development and advance society and the level of the skills and abilities of individuals. It will also enhance the relationship between the educational process and the development, security and demographic needs of society, so as to create a suitable environment and prepare people who are productive, capable of giving, taking pride in their identity and effectively taking part in the building of the future.



With regards to the media, the most recent Cabinet reshuffle included the dissolution of the Ministry of Information and the creation of the National Media Council. This was done so as to give our federal media establishments more flexibility and more financial and administrative independence, in accordance with their federal media status, so that they can carry out their role in adopting national causes, taking an interest in the citizens' concerns and deepening the concepts of freedom, responsibility and loyalty and establishing the values of participation and dialogue.



Regarding all these aspects, we are convinced that all members of our society and all of its religious, cultural, educational,

media and voluntary authorities and bodies have a leading role to play in the forthcoming stage which we are anticipating. Activating, developing and supporting those authorities and bodies is part of the way in which the government is carrying out its duty to create the inventive environment we previously talked about.



However, we do not consider parliamentary elections as the sole element of a democratic system. Democracy consists of a package of practices that include, in addition to electing FNC members, freedom of speech, and enacting laws that guarantee all political, social and intellectual human rights. We have started to lay the foundations of this process and have issued and modified relevant regulatory laws.



Q: What are your hopes for the new FNC, and how would you assess the role of women, in the light of their performance in the current Cabinet?



A: We hope the FNC, in cooperation with the executive authority, would be able to formulate regulations that are capable

of creating a heallty climate for popular participation and of promoting a culture of democracy that respects the rights of citizens and gives them freedom of speech to express their views. We also hope that it will put on the top of its agenda ideas that will

enhance our steps towards promoting democracy, reform, empowerment of women and youth and advancing the comprehensive development process so that it may achieve its human goals, as well as to advance the development of educational, health, training and other systems which are directly linked to the security and welfare of citizens.



Women's participation in the electoral process is complimentary to their existing role in public affairs which has seen them achieve

real participation and to rise to various levels of responsibility, including membership of the Cabinet. Having achieved all this success, the UAE women will now achieve more success in the FNC by focussing on social issues, particularly those related to the rights of women and the family. We have full confidence in UAE women and we expect them to participate pro-actively in the elections, both as candidates and voters



Q: the UAE stock market is suffering from volatility, instability and decline. What are the steps you plan to take to minimise the consequences and effects of this on the national economy in general and on small investors in particular?



A: Despite the regression and the frequent and sharp fluctuations of indices (and this is part of the wave of relapse from which all markets in the region have been suffering), all markets in the region are suffering from), we are not worried . For performance-enhancing factors are there to boost financial markets. Top of these are the political and security stability along with a strong economy that is flourishing in all sectors, as well as the foreign and local investments flowing at satisfactory rates into all of the seven emirates of the country. And then there is the rise in oil prices on global markets.



Q: Recently, Abu Dhabi witnessed a lot of cultural activity, culminating in the launch of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. Do you have plans to turn Abu Dhabi into a cultural beacon for the Gulf region, based on continuous, integrated and well-structured cultural activity?



A: The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is a scholarly award established in recognition of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan - May God have mercy upon him. The value of the nine categories of the award total AED 7 million, (US $ 1.9 million), making it the world's biggest. This award was launched in tribute to the late Father's great interest in sciences and scholars, his appreciation

for the role of literature and arts and his recognition of the status in Arab and Islamic culture as the carrier of knowledge and civilisation. Through this award, we aim to encourage creative intellectuals and individuals and to honour the most giving, creative and influential figures in the Arab cultural movement.



We believe that establishing this award lends further support to the Gulf cultural movement, especially since the award-giving ceremonies which will be hosted annually by the city of Abu Dhabi will be accompanied by arts and book shows and other cultural functions aimed at strengthening the cultural status of the UAE and at creating new venues to develop the process of writing,

publishing and translating books.



Q: You preside over the current session of the Arab Gulf Summit. How do you evaluate the current role of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and do you see any setback in its security and political priorities in favour of economic cooperation?



A: We see the Gulf Cooperation Council as an expression of the historic and social relations among member states. In this sense, it transcends its defined nature as a framework for political and economic cooperation. The social and historic dimension in relations among GCC member states is what may have helped sustain this organisational bond up to the present

moment. Regardless of the slow pace of cooperation among GCC member states, the horizons that are available for cooperation are promising.



It is hoped that the considerable improvement in GCC internal trade, the flow of investments, the allowing property ownership and other economic activity will create a social and economic reality that helps to advance cohesion and strengthen cooperation among GCC member countries.



The fact that political and security priorities dominated GCC cooperation in the 1980s and 1990s was due to the regional situation

during that period. This does not mean that social and economic cooperation was absent, although it may have been less visible in

the media.

However different the priorities might be, the basic standard for success in advancing cooperation (among GCC member countries) is the willingness to do so, and that is increasingly stronger, thanks to closer ties and interests among GCC member states.



Q: GCC member states have expressed concern about Iran's nuclear programmes, but have emphasised the need to handle this issue through diplomatic means. How do you evaluate the current contacts, and have you found during your recent meetings with Iranian officials assurance that the region will not slip into a new military encounter?



A: GCC member states' concerns about Iran's nuclear programme are based on a fixed principle that mandates the necessity of keeping the Gulf region and the Middle East free from any form of race towards weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). GCC member countries, individually and collectively, have told the Iranian leadership of this principled stand. In return, we have received assurances that Iran's nuclear programme is designed for peaceful purposes. We have said that these assurances

need to be strengthened by reassurances that their nuclear programme complies with relevant safety standards set by the IAEA so that GCC member states......



Q. Don't you agree that the UAE constitution, after three and a half decades, needs to be revised to reflect local socio-economic changes and regional developments? Will parliamentary reform be a prelude to such revisions?



A. The real challenge with constitutions lies not in how to revise them but rather in the ability of people and institutions to observe and adhere to the principles embodied in those constitutions. We do not need a constitutional amendment to establish the right of expression, for instance, since this is already stipulated in the constitution. The same applies to the right of association, and the right of foreign labour to enjoy all rights provided for in international conventions. We are proud of this constitution which we consider to be a major accomplishment of the previous phase. Our emphasis in the next phase will be on interpreting and applying it. Should it be deemed necessary, we will make the necessary deletions, revisions or additions pursuant to the constitutional guidelines.



Q. The fact that the UAE Supreme Council is now holding its meetings at longer intervals and that the State Ministry of State for Supreme Council Affairs has been wound up that given the impression that the Council no longer has the same role it used to enjoy in setting the Federation's overall policy. Is this an interim situation, or is it a forerunner of curtailment of the constitutional role of the Council?





A. The Supreme Council is not an executive body that needs to meet on a weekly or monthly basis. It is a Supreme Council whose constitutional mandate is to set policies and handle the Country's top issues and make strategic decisions thereon. Detailed matters fall within the jurisdiction of the President and the executive authority, as represented by the Cabinet, the ministries, councils and committees, and the various federal bodies. Furthermore, meetings are not an end but a means, particularly since

modern communication channels now allow me to be in constant consultation with my brothers, the members of the Supreme Council and Rulers of the Emirates. We are in constant contact, and the Supreme Council is, and

will remain, the top constitutional authority in the country.



The latest cabinet reshuffle that abolished some ministries, merged others and created new ones, was the result of deep analysis

of the federation experience since 1971. And within the context of an overall drive toward building instutions, a recommendation was made to abolish the State Ministry of State for Supreme Council Affairs, particularly since most of the tasks that it used to handle have passed to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.



Q. It has been noticed in the last couple of years that local authorities have come to play a wider role within their respective emirates. Some of these local bodies are now providing services that used to be handled by federal organisations, while others have launched massive real estate or services projects. How do you perceive the new role of the local authorities? Will it curtail the role of the federal authorities? And what will you do to ensure that the role of these local authorities is in accordance with

 national objectives?



A. The UAE is a federation established by political bodies that were in existence before the creation of the Federation. These bodies waived, at their own discretion, some of their powers in order to build a federal body. The relationship between the federation and the member emirates are governed by the constitution. If you look into the constitution and its amendments you will realise that all that is going on in the UAE is constitutional and does not infringe on the powers or roles of the federal institutions.



Q. Some believe that the development of UAE resources, whether as a result of the rise in oil prices or investments, or the improvement of the service and trade sectors, has not led to a corresponding improvement in the resources made available to

the federal budget. Can this be interpreted as an indication of the federal government's relinguishment of some of its social and developmental responsibilities? And how will you address the impact of scarce budget resources?



A. Our economy is strong. It is an example for all developing economies. The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East. It is the top Arab country in terms of infrastructural growth rates and human resource indicators. Now, could all these accompliahed have been achieved without adequate financial allocations?



The federal budget is not suffering from any shortage in resources, in fact it has been increasing year by year. The current budget, for instance, has achieved a zero-deficit for the second year in a row. The budget has also seen an increased contribution by the individual emirates as compared to the previous year. Financial allocations for education, health, and projects have increased too. And the Council of Ministers has decided that the federal government shall contribute to the capital of the new public joint stock companies. All these will automatically translate into increased revenues.



The Government will never ignore its responsibility towards its citizens. The education, housing, health and security of citizens will remain a government responsibility, shared by the federal and local organisations. There is no discrimination between citizens or regions. Development will continue as fair and balanced as it has always been the case since the creation of this federation.



Q. The chronic demographic imbalance presents significant challenges at national, social and security levels. How are you going to address this challenge in the light of the recent legislation allowing foreigners to own property?



A. We are aware of this imbalance, but are confident that addressing it is not an impossible mission. We are following a multi-faceted approach that should ultimately bring this imbalance under control by adopting well integrated, far-sighted plans, not fragmented, temporary procedures.



Q. What are the components of this multi-faceted approach?



A. The main pillar is enhancing the role of nationals in production and management, by replacement of the expatriate workforce with qualified nationals. Linked to this is a huge endeavour that has already started to restructure the education and training sectors to be more responsive to the labour market needs. This is in addition to gradual application of sectoral Emiratisation, by allocating some jobs and professions exclusively for nationals.



The second pillar is restructuring the economy, by creating the most favourable environment for its transformation from a conventional, labour-intensive economy to one based on knowledge, technology and skilled labour. We have already started to enact policies and legislation that encourage capital/technology-intensive industries rather than labour-intensive industries. This will result in the forthcoming years in a substantial decrease in the number of unskilled labour, which is one of the major segments contributing to the demographic imbalance, and will help create more job opportunities for nationals.



The third pillar deals with improving the efficiency of the various bodies in charge of controlling the expatriate workforce, and enhancing coordination among these bodies and public awareness.







Q:- As the UAE opens up, the international media has become increasingly interested in a variety of issues

such as workers and their rights and other topics in all walks of life, the progress of which is being monitored

by human rights watchdogs and other international agencies. In the UAE, do you feel you that are addressing such criticisms and questions in such a prompt way that may dissipate concerns spelt out by these groups, or do

you feel that some of their remarks are rather exaggerated?



A:- The UAE, since its creation, has been keen to have human rights incorporated into its Constitution. A host of mechanisms has thus been formulated that will help enhance and cherish these rights, ensure that the workers' basic rights are put into practice and honoured and that a package of strict laws, designed to maintain their rights and improve their conditions, are applied.

We have further issued a law on combating human trafficking crimes. This was preceded by a new set of measures aimed

at barring expatriate domestic labourers from being exploited by owners of companies and establishments. However, counter

to these efforts, we find that the nature of statements released by human rights organisations is greatly exaggerated. They are based on factual misunderstanding and misperceptions about what is taking place in real life. As you may be aware, the

 workers to whom the UAE plays host can not be regarded as migrant labourers since they are working on a temporary basis

and under specific employment contracts. Therefore, immigration laws as enacted in Western countries can not be applied

altogether to those workers.



Q:- A significant time span has elapsed since the economic openness option was embraced. To what extent has the UAE

 citizen benefited from it?



A:- The UAE has undoubtedly benefited from the economic openness policy. All of our Emirates and cities have become

arenas for growth in tourism from around the world and for global investment. All of this has contributed to the acceleration of the wheels of development and the economic boom and has further helped us to achieve prosperity and create more job opportunities for UAE citizens.

One of the outcomes of the economic openness policy is the fact that many family businesses have been converted into

joint stock companies open to public offering, thus becoming partners in economic growth. Many other UAE companies

have also taken advantage of this policy by extending their investments to many countries starting from the GCC states

to countries in the Arab world, Asia, Europe and America.

The fact that a number of internationally renowned educational, cultural and vocational enterprises are operative in the country is also expected to spur their national counterparts to upgrade the quality and efficiency of their operations and products to

enable them to cope with the competition.



Q:-In view of the policy of openness and multiplicity of alien cultures in the UAE, is the issue of national identity a cause for concern to Your Highness?



A:-The true and pristine Islamic creed and Arab culture are the two most significant elements in the UAE identity. They are the bulwarks in which we trust to protect that identity and help boost its ability to deal with any aberrant alien culture or patterns of behaviour. And we do not fear for our identity as long as our people are proud of it and are abiding by their values and culture. As for the effect of interacting with other cultures, it may serve as a useful addition to the components of our identity such as openness, development of skills to perceive the culture of others and to accept and respect it. These are major traits in the national character, over and above other factors relating to maintenance and protection of the identity and the teaching of the heritage of our fathers and forefathers to the young, that our various educational, cultural and religious institutions are striving to consolidate.





Q:- The UAE is negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States. There are reports of American preconditions for revision of labour laws and freedom of forming political parties. So is there any political price for this agreement?



A:- The on-going talks with the US are carried out by a negotiating body with a high degree of efficiency and proficiency and a clear vision. It comprises specialized teams and many technical supportive panels. The body's function is to endeavour to reach such optimal results that will ensure UAE products access to the largest economy in the world and to bring state-of-the-art industrial technology to the country while safeguarding national economic interests with all their positive bearing on various sectors.



Our negotiating position is based on a vision derived from the talks the board has had and is still having with respective parties in both the public and private sectors. There are clear instructions to our negotiators that under no circumstance should they compromise our country's sovereignty or its resolve. More particularly, these negotiations are a UAE national demand related to our open economic strategy so long as any agreement will lead to many opportunities for progress and prosperity for the national economy  are re-assured about the programme's safety and that technical standards are well in place to guarantee the safety of

the facilities and to prevent any possible failure that leads to environmental damage in the region, including in the GCC countries.



Q: Would the UAE be able to exploit the current international pressure on Tehran to push the issue of occupation of its three

islands of Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb and Abu Musa into the spotlight again? Or may the world's preoccupation with the nuclear dossier hinder the UAE's efforts to regain the islands?



A: The approach adopted to regain our three islands of Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb and Abu Musa is not driven by any political agenda, be it regional or international. It is based on a legal, righteous and national stand which was taken long before the existence of the Iranian nuclear programme. The approaches suggested by the UAE to resolve the issue are based on referral to international legitimacy and laws and brotherly dialogue. That's why there is no room for external policies

or positions to affect the way we tackle the issue of our occupied islands. We still hope that the issue will be resolved via constructive dialogue or resorting to the International Court of Justice.



Q: It is no secret that the humanitarian efforts constitute an essential part of the UAE's foreign policy. This has certainly earned the country respect and appreciation from the whole world. That angle was evident in the humanitarian aid provided to the Palestinians in Gaza, the victims of the recent Israeli aggression against Lebanon, Tsunami survivors, earthquake survivors in Pakistan and aid to many poor countries in Africa and the Islamic world. How do you envision the impact of humanitarian aid in bridging gaps between different nations and in spreading the message of peace among the world's countries?



A: Humanitarian efforts are an important part of the UAE's foreign policy. That idea was the brainchild of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who said: "Allah the Almighty has given us the wealth to develop our country and at the same time, to contribute in the development of other countries."

To achieve this goal, the UAE has established numerous humanitarian and charity organisations, including the Red Crescent Society, the Zayed Foundation for Charitable and Humanitarian Works, the Mohammed bin Rashid Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and other organisations, which play a central role in the advancement of our policy. That approach has helped us to maintain close ties with brotherly and friendly countries and has enabled us, with all capabilities at hand, to earn a respected status among the donors of humanitarian relief.



Q: UAE and Saudi Arabia have stepped up contacts lately. It is said that the borders issue featured in the contacts. Do you view such an issue as a threat to the exceptionally strong ties between the two countries. What is the current status of the efforts aimed at resolving this issue?



A: Contacts with the brothers in Saudi Arabia are continuous. Regardless of what is being discussed, a fraternal spirit always prevail in such meetings. Our keenness to maintain brotherly ties with Saudi Arabia matches that of the Kingdom and of my brother

the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, and Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.



Q: There are voices in Washington now calling for dividing Iraq as a way out for withdrawing U.S. troops. How do you view this?



A: Like in all Arab countries, we in the UAE, are confident that peace, security and stability of the region will not be achieved without a united Iraq. We have explained this stand to all stakeholders and said that any calls, no matter where they come from, to divide Iraq or dismantle it on geographic or communal grounds, will not be in the interests of Iraq, nor its people.

We are sure that the Iraqi government and people are in favour of unity. They are more qualified than any other to defend that option.



Q: The Palestinian arena is going through a critical stage due to Israel's barbaric acts against the Palestinians. How do you view the Palestinian scene and is there any chance for reviving the peace process?



A: The situation in Palestinian territories is appalling. On one hand, the Palestinians are suffering from the Israeli occupation and the aggression against innocent civilians on a daily basis. On the other, there seems to be no end in sight to the stalemate situation, so their plight is never-ending. We reiterate our support for our Palestinian brothers and express out hope that they will strengthen their national unity.





Q: the UAE stock market is suffering from volatility, instability and decline. What are the steps you plan to take to minimise the consequences and effects of this on the national economy in general and on small investors in particular? A: Despite the regression and the frequent and sharp fluctuations of indices (and this is part of the wave of relapse from which all markets in the region have been suffering), all markets in the region are suffering from), we are not worried . For performance-enhancing factors are there to boost financial markets. Top of these are the political and security stability along with a strong economy that is flourishing in all sectors, as well as the foreign and local investments flowing at satisfactory rates into all of the seven emirates of the country. And then there is the rise in oil prices on global markets.



Q: Recently, Abu Dhabi witnessed a lot of cultural activity, culminating in the launch of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. Do you have plans to turn Abu Dhabi into a cultural beacon for the Gulf region, based on continuous, integrated and well-structured cultural activity? A: The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is a scholarly award established in recognition of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan - May God have mercy upon him. The value of the nine categories of the award total AED 7 million, (US $ 1.9 million), making it the world's biggest. This award was launched in tribute to the late Father's great interest in sciences and scholars, his appreciation for the role of literature and arts and his recognition of the status in Arab and Islamic culture as the carrier of knowledge and civilisation. Through this award, we aim to encourage creative intellectuals and individuals and to honour the most giving, creative and influential figures in the Arab cultural movement.



We believe that establishing this award lends further support to the Gulf cultural movement, especially since the award-giving ceremonies which will be hosted annually by the city of Abu Dhabi will be accompanied by arts and book shows and other cultural functions aimed at strengthening the cultural status of the UAE and at creating new venues to develop the process of writing, publishing and translating books.



Q: You preside over the current session of the Arab Gulf Summit.



How do you evaluate the current role of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and do you see any setback in its security and political priorities in favour of economic cooperation? A: We see the Gulf Cooperation Council as an expression of the historic and social relations among member states. In this sense, it transcends its defined nature as a framework for political and economic cooperation. The social and historic dimension in relations among GCC member states is what may have helped sustain this organisational bond up to the present moment. Regardless of the slow pace of cooperation among GCC member states, the horizons that are available for cooperation are promising.



It is hoped that the considerable improvement in GCC internal trade, the flow of investments, the allowing property ownership and other economic activity will create a social and economic reality that helps to advance cohesion and strengthen cooperation among GCC member countries.



The fact that political and security priorities dominated GCC cooperation in the 1980s and 1990s was due to the regional situation during that period. This does not mean that social and economic cooperation was absent, although it may have been less visible in the media.



However different the priorities might be, the basic standard for success in advancing cooperation (among GCC member countries) is the willingness to do so, and that is increasingly stronger, thanks to closer ties and interests among GCC member states.



Q: GCC member states have expressed concern about Iran's nuclear programmes, but have emphasised the need to handle this issue through diplomatic means. How do you evaluate the current contacts, and have you found during your recent meetings with Iranian officials assurance that the region will not slip into a new military encounter? A: GCC member states' concerns about Iran's nuclear programme are based on a fixed principle that mandates the necessity of keeping the Gulf region and the Middle East free from any form of race towards weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). GCC member countries, individually and collectively, have told the Iranian leadership of this principled stand. In return, we have received assurances that Iran's nuclear programme is designed for peaceful purposes. We have said that these assurances need to be strengthened by reassurances that their nuclear programme complies with relevant safety standards set by the IAEA so that GCC member states are re-assured about the programme's safety and that technical standards are well in place to guarantee the safety of the facilities and to prevent any possible failure that leads to environmental damage in the region, including in the GCC countries. Emirates News Agency (WAM)

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