Prime Minister David Cameron and the Prime Minister of Qatar, His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Althani gave a press conference on the relationship between Britain and Qatar and the situation in the Middle East on 23 February 2011.
Read the transcript:
Prime Minister of Qatar
In the name of God, the most merciful and the most compassionate: first of all, I would like to welcome our dear guest, the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron. We are very pleased with this visit. This visit is very important; it comes at a very important time for Qatar and the area. We have met on more than one occasion. We have discussed many different topics including, of course, the relations between Qatar and the UK. These are very old, historic and very important relations. Lately, we have consolidated these relations even more in the field of economic cooperation, political coordination and other subjects of interest, whether to do with health or education, or even social aspects. We are of the opinion that these are very important and balanced relations.
Qatar, as you know, invests in the UK and we will increase our investment in the future. Today, we have signed an important agreement to increase the import of gas to the UK. It is important for our relations to be based on mutual interests which work in both directions, which lead to a balance in the cooperation economically between the two countries. We have also discussed other related issues. We have discussed issues which are important to our part of the world, and what’s been happening and the latest events in Libya and Yemen, and also we have discussed our points of view as to how Qatar views these developments, and there should be a clear view. Violence and force should not be used in the way we have seen it being used, and issues of this nature should be solved peacefully and in a way which will safeguard the properties of the state and the people.
We have also discussed issues of bilateral importance. We hope our relations between us and the UK will develop further, because as I said, these are historic relations and we are always prepared and willing to look positively at any proposals or suggestions to develop these relations at the political, economic or educational levels, and we think it is very important also that there should be clarity in dealing with the Palestinian question. As you know, it was very regrettable that the US had resorted to using the veto at the Security Council and we hope that Britain will live up to our expectations to reach some good conclusions based on international resolutions and on the principles of justice. Once again, we thank you, Prime Minister, for your visit, and we wish you success, and now the floor is yours.
Thank you very much, your Excellency, and thank you for the warm welcome that we have received from you. I think we have had some excellent discussions, both last night and also this morning. Your country is something of an emerging regional powerhouse, from the strength of your economy to your decision to play host to one of the most powerful news outlets in the world, which is certainly making its presence felt, to your role in mediating international conflicts, and even, if I may say with a slight hint of jealousy, to your successful World Cup bid, although of course we weren’t bidding against each other - we were bidding for 2018, and you for 2022 - but it is quite clear that Qatar is going places.
As we are turning Britain round at home, I am determined to connect Britain to the countries that will matter in the future, and that means your country of Qatar. My visit here, building on the Emir’s very successful state visit to Britain last year, is I hope the next step in this process. In our talks today, we have covered events in the region, the importance of reform, our shared economic and cultural agenda, and regional security issues. Now, I talked at length yesterday about change in this region, and my principles are clear: that governments must respond to their people through reform, and not repression; that the exercise of excessive force is something I condemn, wherever it occurs; and that we want to see the building blocks of democracy put in place peacefully, in a way that responds to people’s aspirations. That applies to Libya, where the situation remains gravely concerning and where we are doing everything that we can to protect British nationals and to assist them in leaving the country.
We also discussed today ways to strengthen our trading, cultural and education links. On trade we welcome the announcement between Centrica and Qatargas of the supply of liquid natural gas for the next three years. This is an important step towards greater energy security for Britain and it is also good for British consumers. I also welcome plans for the first meeting of the UK-Qatar Trade and Investment Forum, a forum that now has the clear purpose of doubling bilateral trade to £4.4 billion a year by 2015. We also have a memorandum of understanding to strengthen our sporting links as well as a framework of cooperation on education. And I am particularly pleased, Your Excellency, that you have agreed to speak at the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies later this year.
Third, regional security issues. As we discussed today, Iran remains a grave concern because of its intent to acquire nuclear weapons. They are already suffering from international sanctions, their economy is weak and vulnerable and the regime only survives by cracking down on its political opposition. On its current path Iran is set to become an international pariah state with no friends, no money, nowhere to go. Britain and its international partners remain ready to negotiate but we are not going to be taken for a ride. So, we will continue to find ways to increase the pressure. We will work vigorously to ensure international sanctions are implemented and I have asked our officials to consider what more can be done in this important area. We have also discussed the situation in Yemen. We are committed to working with President Saleh on the urgent political and economic reforms his country needs and to tackling the danger that al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula presents to people at home in Britain.
Finally, the Middle East peace process, which you spoke about. This dispute continues to fuel hate right across this region and serious, direct and substantive peace talks are needed more urgently than ever. The time for the two-state solution is running short. Britain supported last week’s resolution in the UN Security Council because settlements are an obstacle to peace and we call today for a renewed effort to achieve long-term security for Israel and justice and statehood for the Palestinians.
Your Excellency, thank you once again for your hospitality and I look forward to welcoming you again in Britain in the near future. In the meantime, I know that we will keep in regular touch to have this very good dialogue where we share so much perspective on what is happening in your region.
Prime Minister of Qatar
Thank you, sir.
Thank you, I have two questions. The first question is to His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. Colonel Qadhafi criticised Qatar last night in his speech as far as Qatar’s position to support the people of Libya. What is your opinion of this criticism?
Prime Minister of Qatar
In the name of God first of all, we feel pain vis-a-vis what is happening in Libya and what is happening to the Libyan people. We think that Qatar has not committed a crime if it sides with the people of Libya and its rejection of the use of violence and force by the government of Libya. We follow with grave concern and sorrow what is happening there. We think that the Libyan people deserve a better life like any other people in the world. We do not have any quarrels with the government of Libya. All that we have said officially was an expression of discomfort at the use of excessive force. This is unacceptable as far as we are concerned. As for criticisms of the media, we do not interfere in the work of the media; the media is free. We hope that by the will of God, Libya will come out of its predicament as soon as possible.
Thank you. Questions individually to both Prime Ministers, if I may? First of all, Mr Cameron, is it appropriate to hold the World Cup 2022 in Qatar given its stance on homosexuality and also given the decision to hold the tournament during the summer during the stifling heat? And secondly, if I could ask you what more can be done to help get British nationals out of Libya. There have been some reports this morning that the pleas of several stranded Britons have been ignored by the UK government. And if I may, Your Excellency, you’ve already invested some £10 billion in the UK in business. The UK government will be seeking to sell shares in state-owned banks in coming years; is it possible that Qatar might invest in RBS or Lloyds in the future? Thank you.
Thank you. Let me take the second part of your question first. In terms of getting British nationals out of Libya, we are doing everything that we can. We have given very clear advice about what needs to be done and we stand by in any way we can, whether that is through ships, whether that is through chartering aeroplanes, and the crisis centre at the Foreign Office is working round the clock to make sure that we bring people home safely, and that we deliver them back to our shores. There is no higher priority right now for the Foreign Office than for dealing with this issue because, clearly, what is happening in Libya is very uncertain, very dangerous, and it’s right that people, British nationals, should come home and we’ll do everything we can to help them.
In terms of the World Cup, FIFA took the decision to take football to new places, and I have to say I watched the Qatari presentation in Zurich, and it was extremely persuasive and very strong. Remember, we weren’t competing with the Qataris; we were competing for 2018, they were competing for 2022, and they made a very persuasive case that it was time, if all of the world was going to share in football, then at some stage football must go to the Middle East and that Qatar was prepared to put a huge amount of effort and resources into hosting the World Cup.
To me it’s clear, football is for everybody, no one should be excluded on the basis of race or religion or sex or sexuality, it’s absolutely vital that is the case, and I’m sure that will be the case when the football World Cup comes here to Qatar. What I would say is that football can be a great engine for social change, and changing attitudes. I think we saw in our own country how successfully football drove racism out of the stands, and I think just as that has happened so too we need to make sure that there is no place for homophobia in football either.
Prime Minister of Qatar
But you did not ask me the first question, you asked the Prime Minister, so less embarrassment for me. Second thing, about any investment in the state or partially on state banks, we are very open for any investment in the UK. In fact, we discussed a few ideas with the Prime Minister and our team - they’ve been engaged and they will continue to engage and discuss any new investment in the UK.
Your Excellency, yesterday we followed what the Arab League has done; they froze Libya’s participation and the League’s work. Are there any Arab efforts? Are you going to strip Libya of its presidency of the Arab Summit? Are there any other Qatari moves apart from what you have just told us? And then Mr Cameron, you criticised and condemned what happened in Libya - is this enough, especially in view of the fact that Britain is said to put its interests before human rights, especially that the Security Council has just expressed concern, nothing more? What practical steps can the UK take, or take the lead in, to stop this genocide in Libya?
I think we’ve been very clear with respect to Libya, that what is happening there is unacceptable. That the use of violence against their own people, the appalling scenes that we have seen on our television screens: this is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand. We played our part on the United Nations Security Council of making sure there was a strong presidential statement last night, and that is as it should be. This is what the UN is for: to make sure it takes a clear stand if people, if countries visit this sort of terror on their own people - the United Nations should take a very clear stand and I’m delighted with the presidential statement that was made last night.
But as I say, our first priority today must be to get British nationals and British people out of Libya, but we’ve been very clear, right from the start, that it is unacceptable what Colonel Qadhafi is doing to his own people.
Prime Minister of Qatar
As far as any Qatari moves are concerned we move within the framework of the Arab League, and we hope that this situation will end as soon as possible, and we said we hope that the Libyan brother, the Libyan people deserve a dignified life, and we do not interfere in the internal affairs of Libya as such. But when the situation gets out of hand and becomes like what we have seen lately, of course, that’s why we expressed our opinion. We do not consider this as an intervention. On the contrary we want Libya to be an integral and important part of the Arab world. All that we hope is what we have been witnessing in Libya should be ended as soon as possible.
Thank you. Prime Minister, on the reports of British citizens trapped in the Libyan desert who say that their pleas are being ignored, that they’re desperate for the British government to get us out, that France has already got two plane loads out, has Britain been slow on this? And also France is calling for EU sanctions on Libya; do you support that? Is there more that Britain can do in freezing Libyan assets? And also do you think it was wrong for Tony Blair to do the deal in the desert with Colonel Qadhafi? And, Your Excellency, since you didn’t answer the question on the World Cup, I wonder whether you might do now?
Well, first of all on the situation of British nationals, we’re doing, as I say, everything we can; the Foreign Office Crisis Centre is working round the clock. There will be planes and also the use of ferries and other means to get people out of Libya, and we will do everything we can to make that happen. Obviously it’s a very difficult situation. I don’t want to give details of exact plane arrival times and what ships and when, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we get those people out. And there are all sorts of different means that we can use to make sure that that happens.
On the issue of the EU engagement, not just with Libya but with North Africa more generally, I’ve been very clear - including at the last European Union Council - that Europe has given a huge amount of aid to these countries, and while it has signed so-called association agreements it hasn’t really insisted on proper conditions for this money, and we’ve seen far too much money disappear down a great big black hole in some of these countries, not actually helping them to develop their democracy, to develop their systems. And I think we should insist on much greater conditionality in the future. And I think this is a wake-up call for Europe and the European Union to focus much more clearly on the aid that it gives and what results it wants to see as a result of that aid. So I want to see that shaken up, I want to see that change; it’s not acceptable, frankly, that there’s money that’s gone in and no political reform has happened in turn.
In terms of what Tony Blair did and the issue with Libya, clearly it was right to encourage and then to welcome Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction. In terms of trying to enhance anti-proliferation, that was a good move forward. But I’ve always taken the view that that relationship needed to have some clear parameters and, for instance, I’ve been clear right from the start that it should never have included the idea of releasing al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the biggest mass murder in British history. Tthat should have been completely off the table. So it’s parameters like that that should have been put in place when this relationship was entered into. That is my very clear view.
Prime Minister of Qatar
Well, first of all I have to admit that I am very weak in this sport, so I don’t know the rules - I like sport of course, but I am not involved in the sport. But I respect that FIFA chose Qatar for 2022 and I think FIFA, when they take their decision, as the Prime Minister takes the decision, to take it to the different ground, different culture, different geography and this shows sport as an international thing, which you can use in every place and in every part. As you know, Qatar is developing in all aspects and we are trying also to be part of the world and sport, and we did a lot in that. And we are very happy for the decision of FIFA to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and I think it’s a wise decision. This region has a lot of problems and it’s time to show that this region can produce something and participate in something to show the people hope, especially at this time. Thank you very much.