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Hague says Kuwait, UK share best relationships in the world ‘Electronic visa tool to enhance ties’

KUWAIT CITY, Dec 6: Kuwait-UK relations is the best relationships in the world, partly because it’s got a strong history; Britain on more than one occasion literally fought for Kuwait’s freedom which creates a psychological bond between the two countries and secondly, there’s a wonderful flow of people and businesses where Britain managed to increase the trade to six billion US dollars which generates jobs and incomes for people, says Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague as he spoke at a Q & A forum with Sout Al Kuwait at the Kuwait Women’s Social Society, Friday. The role of civil society, the nature of democracy in different cultures and different countries and what nations can learn from each other and more importantly Britain’s role in the Gulf as well as foreign policy issues were among the topics discussed in the forum. Ambassador Baker in his introduction said this was a good opportunity for Foreign Secretary William Hague to talk to some of the young activists in Kuwait, adding that Foreign Secretary Hague is well aware of the freedoms and democracy that is prevalent here in Kuwait and will be very much interested in getting the views of the younger generation who are no doubt the future leaders of the country. Hague for his part started off saying that foreign policy in the world isn’t just about governments talking to each other but about the peoples of countries talking to each other and governments talking to the peoples of other countries. He added that there’s much to celebrate between the UK and Kuwait because they’re both democratic countries “as you know we in Britain are very proud of our democratic heritage which has developed over hundreds of years”. The foreign secretary praised the media in Kuwait for asking questions at his earlier news conference which other journalists will normally be afraid to ask in other countries in the region also adding that his trip to the parliament and the rigorous debate he witnessed made him come away affirming the long held belief in the democratic tradition of Kuwait. “There has been several times in history Britain has fought for the freedom of Kuwait, most recently in 1991 so we really believe in the country, its freedom as well as the freedom of its people”. The foreign secretary said that quite often the way he can discuss issues with other people in the world who’re not in government is via Twitter where he sometimes holds question and answer sessions on about any subject, but better still, it’s better to be physically together and discuss things .

Awareness A representative of Sout Al Kuwait, a volunteer based civil society group consisting of young activists focusing on awareness, development of civil society and democracy gave a rundown of the organization’s activities. Hague, reassuring a worried participant on recent developments with Iran, said he’d be delivering a speech in Bahrain in the coming hours about that interim agreement with Iran, assuring them about the commitment of the UK and other western countries to the Gulf countries. He said what has happened is that what has happened was an agreement made with Iran on the nuclear issue as a first step which he added is in the interest of all countries in the Gulf region at large. “After all what’s the alternative to an agreement with Iran? The alternative could be Iran develops a nuclear weapon or what could happen if somebody attacks Iran, it’ll affect all countries in the region,” he said. He added that it’s not in the interest of Kuwait or any country in the region should those worse case scenarios happen, better to avoid it. Hague continued that it’s the right thing to do to come to a first stage agreement that stops their nuclear program and rolls back some of it and give the parties the time to negotiate a full agreement. He assured the audience that the agreement is only about the nuclear issue and doesn’t mean any policy has changed, be it sanctions or even Iranian policies. “We’d like them to change some of their policies such as their support for the Assad regime and there’s no sign of that yet, but here we’re trying to avoid a renewed war and that doesn’t mean there’s been a strategic realignment where we change our friends. It was a necessary agreement with a country with which we’ve had a very difficult relationship and sometimes in diplomacy you have to come to agreement with people you disagree with all the time and that doesn’t mean you’re their best friend”. Hague urged the Gulf countries not to be worried about the agreement which he noted is in their interest, in the west’s interest as well as in the interest of the normal people of Iran. The agreement he said could open the way for talks on other issues like stability in Afghanistan, the war on narcotics and so forth. The foreign secretary in response to a question as to when to expect visa free travels for Kuwaitis to the UK, revealed that sometime in 2014, Kuwaitis visiting the UK for less than six months will only fill in a form online free of charge forty eight hours prior to their departure and they’d be able to travel with a visa waiver, but students will still need visas for their long duration of stays. But he further noted that the scheme will be brought to Gulf countries with the smallest numbers of visitors to the UK which means Kuwait might have to wait a little while because they have the largest visitor numbers to the UK in the region.

History On UK-Kuwait relations, Hague answered that it’s the best relationships in the world, partly because it’s got a strong history; Britain on more than one occasion literally fought for Kuwait’s freedom which creates a psychological bond between the two countries and secondly, there’s a wonderful flow of people and businesses where Britain managed to increase the trade to six billion US dollars which generates jobs and incomes for people. On human rights in the Middle East and the situation in Bahrain, Hague said they’re doing their best advising the leaders to allow freedoms, adding that they’re sovereign nations and the UK cannot lecture them on what to do. Regarding Britain refraining from supporting human rights, he indicated that Britain is no longer an empire that can dictate its decisions upon other countries, stressing that Britain allows the countries and nations to make their own decisions. He said Britain issues a yearly report on human rights, as it believes in the right of every nation to make its own decisions. Regarding Kuwait’s nomination law for parliamentary elections, he narrated his story of entering Britain’s parliament at the age of 27, revealing that if he were in Kuwait, he would not have been able to become a parliamentarian. Meanwhile, Kuwait will be taking part in the UK first-ever electronic visa scheme as announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron and hopefully this new scheme would further solidify the long and historical friendship between the two countries, said British Foreign Secretary William Hague here Friday. This scheme will allow Kuwaitis to submit an online form that would enable them to have a single visa entry to the UK, said Hague during a joint press conference with Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al- Hamad Al-Sabah. The scheme will be tested before it’s fully implemented in 2014, said Hague who stressed that the UK was keen on bolstering relations with its GCC partners especially Kuwait. Hague took the chance to thank Kuwait for its generous gesture to host the second donors’ conference on Syria next January, hoping that “Kuwait 2” would have an impact on lessening the suffering of the Syrian refugees. The UK Foreign Secretary also affirmed that his meeting with Sheikh Sabah Khaled also focused on the Geneva 2 conference on Syria which is aiming at finding a political solution to end the regional conflict raging on since March 2011. On his part, Sheikh Sabah Khaled said that Kuwait was keen on bolstering relations with the UK, noting that the recent meeting for the British- Kuwaiti Joint Steering Group (JSG) in London focused on boosting ties in various domains. He affirmed that Kuwait and the UK were looking into means to boost commercial exchange, noting that the upcoming meeting for the JSG would further look into this matter. In regards to the regional situation, Sheikh Sabah Khaled said that the meeting touched on the upcoming donors’ conference in Kuwait. He reflected Kuwait’s stern attitude towards helping and aiding the Syrian refugees, hoping that the event would contribute to resolving the humanitarian crisis in Syria. He also expressed Kuwait’s support of the upcoming Geneva 2 conference, stressing that the international meeting was vital to find a political solution to the dilemma in Syria. Sheikh Sabah Khaled affirmed that both Syria meetings would be on the agenda of talks with the 2nd President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Ahmad Jarba. On the Iranian nuclear file, Sheikh Sabah Khaled expressed Kuwait’s satisfaction with the agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran and called on both sides to continue pursuing solutions to the file. Earlier today, Hague met with National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim, discussing with him issues connected to means to bolster bilateral relations.

The meeting also touched on affairs of regional and international importance. William Hague said Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must stand down to allow for any peaceful settlement to the 33-month-old conflict in his country. “We have always been very clear that a peaceful solution in Syria must require the departure of President Assad,” Hague told a press conference in Kuwait City after talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah. “It is impossible to imagine after so many deaths, so much destruction, a regime oppressing and murdering its own people on this scale” should remain in power, Britain’s chief diplomat said. “It is impossible to imagine, I think, President Assad could remain on the scene in Syria in the future,” Hague said. The reiteration of Britain’s call for Assad’s ouster came just weeks ahead of an international peace conference on Syria slated for Jan 22. The government in Damascus has said Assad will remain president and lead any transition agreed at the conference, while the opposition and rebels fighting the regime insist he play no role. Hague said Assad remaining at the helm was “an obstacle to peace,” and that he would not be accepted by Britain or any other Western country. But no Western power could guarantee when Assad departs. “We believe it is imperative for him to go,” said Hague, renewing Britain’s recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of Syria’s people. Coalition chief Ahmad Jarba is due in Kuwait early Saturday on his first official visit to the Gulf state. The Kuwaiti foreign minister stressed the importance of the visit, ahead of both the Geneva 2 peace conference and a “Kuwait 2” donor conference in Kuwait City set for mid- January.

By: Iddris Seidu Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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