‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon
lllustration by Luis Grañena
Updated 26 May 2018

‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

Tom Fletcher might be best described as “the anti-diplomat.” Not in the sense that he sees no value in diplomacy, but in his steadfast refusal to live up to the stereotype expected of the ambassadorial profession.
While British ambassador in Beirut, he tweeted his way to acceptance by his hosts with an informal style and social accessibility that was in distinct contrast to the stuffy image of the traditional diplomatic circuit.
He told the BBC that there was not a single Ferrero Rocher in the embassy building — referring to the chocolates jokingly associated with the job after a 1990s TV commercial — and his “Dear Lebanon” farewell blog in 2015 after four years in the job boosted his broad international online appeal.
Now, Fletcher is running a portfolio of careers in the space where business, technology and public policy intersect. He is a visiting professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi, specializing in international relations, and is also involved with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, the “ambassadors’ finishing school” in the UAE capital.
The former envoy is also chairman of the international board of the UK’s Creative Industries Federation and a member of the United Nations’ Global Tech Panel, as well as continuing a career as a successful author. His book “The Naked Diplomat” explored the interactions between governments, technology and big business, and became an international bestseller.
His experience and Internet renown make him a star attraction on the international forums circuit. He was on a panel in Dubai recently to discuss the findings of the 10th Arab Youth Survey, and afterwards went into some detail on the findings of the poll, which showed — alarmingly for some — that the US was waning in popularity in the region under President Trump and that Russia was increasingly regarded as a friend for young people in the Middle East.
Fletcher told Arab News that there was some reason to be worried about those findings, but also cause for optimism. “We have seen a striking fall in reputation among young people in the region since the US elections. But it was also worth noting the wider admiration for the American people as a whole, which looks quite resilient.
“The Russia results were interesting, because Russia has not always been a stabilizing force in the region. On Trump, they are further confirmation that the election of the leader of the free world created a vacuum. But the lights will eventually come back on in the shining city on a hill,” he said.
The survey seemed also to reveal a generational split in the Arab world, with many youngsters demonstrably not sharing their elders’ view of the US president. “I think that the region has access to the same information as the rest of us, and can take from it a pretty clear assessment of Donald Trump’s reliability. There are clearly some areas of alignment with some countries, such as the rejection of the Iran deal. But the survey shows that people across the region also hear the Trump administration’s wider messaging on the Middle East,” Fletcher said.
The Iranian situation was clearly on his mind, but he said there were alternatives to an escalating confrontation between the US and the Gulf states on the one hand, and the regime in Tehran on the other. “Wherever you stand on the Iran deal, its violation is a concern for regional security. The issue we have to ask ourselves is ‘what is the alternative for restraining Iran’s nuclear potential?’ Personally, I haven’t seen a better answer to that than the existing Iran agreement.
“Of course, the Iran deal in itself isn’t sufficient in reacting to Iran’s wider regional role, not least in Syria. But I worry that it is the hard-liners in Tel Aviv and Tehran who seem keenest to end the agreement,” he said.
A lot of his time in Beirut was spent dealing with the regional fallout from the Syrian crisis, which started just as he began the ambassador’s job. Surely, seven years on and with no solution in sight, that represents a failure of traditional diplomacy?
Fletcher’s response was, well, diplomatic. “Not all has failed. Huge effort has gone into keeping Lebanon relatively stable, despite the scale of the Syria crisis just across the border. Diplomacy has failed on Syria and on Palestine/Israel. But George Mitchell (the American politician credited with helping bring about an end to the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1990s) said that making peace was 700 days of failure and one of success. We have no choice but to keep trying, and to work harder than those who want to see diplomacy continue to stumble,” he said.
Fletcher’s work in the Gulf has enabled him to take a broad overview of developments in the region, and there is no more intriguing situation than in Saudi Arabia, which is going through a rapid transformation of the economy and society under the Vision 2030 strategy. “I think there has been a shift in international opinion on Vision 2030 over the last year. Initially many were curious, and conscious of the obstacles.
“But there is now a growing realization of how important a reform agenda is, especially if it succeeds in creating more opportunity for young people, including women. We all should hope it succeeds — I think it can, but will need maximum involvement of citizens themselves in shaping an open approach,” he said.
Fletcher also has a clear view of the kind of socioeconomic order that will emerge from the transformational policies of regional leaders.
“The Gulf has clearly realized that there is a need to move away from oil dependency well before the oil runs out. The answer has to lie in a knowledge economy. I’m heartened by the kinds of issues that my students at NYU AD want to work on and pioneer. And by the government focus on themes like wellbeing and education reform.
“Twenty-first century skills will need to be at the heart of the school curriculum, with learners encouraged to be curious, to seek out sources of knowledge and wonder, and to learn teamworking and innovation. This is happening increasingly in the larger cities, but there is still work to be done to mainstream knowledge, skills and character in education systems,” he said.
With the power of Big Data coming under scrutiny as never before in cases such as the controversy over Facebook’s role in the political process in the US and elsewhere, Fletcher’s work for the UN is more relevant than ever, and he believes there is a big role for the Gulf states to play in that debate.
“The Middle East needs to ensure it is better represented in the international architecture. It needs to be a key part of the debate about security and liberty online — the UAE Artificial Intelligence Minister (Omar Bin Sultan Al-Olama) is a great example of this. And it needs to help get everyone on to a free Internet,” he said.
Before entering the diplomatic service, Fletcher was an adviser on foreign policy to three British prime ministers, which gives him a unique perspective on the big current issue in the UK — the increasingly bitter process of leaving the EU, or Brexit.
The search for new trading partners has seen a succession of British ministers visiting the Gulf region in a bid to clinch new business. Fletcher does not share the view of some that the UK is destined for insularity and isolation in the post-Brexit world.
“The UK is going through a complex process, but it is always at its best when it has a worldview formed from having actually viewed the world. When it is open minded, outward looking. When it stands for more liberty — rights, trade, thought.
“The creative industries are already showing the way. And the royal wedding was a brilliant reminder of what the UK can be — diverse, modern, self-aware, creative. We all badly needed that reminder,” he said.
Fletcher was the youngest person ever to get a major ambassadorial post, and seems well set to pursue a handsomely paid career in virtually any sector, from international policy-making, to domestic UK politics or the private sector.
But he still regards himself as a diplomat with a creative twist. “I still write diplomat on the landing cards in planes.” And there is a second book in the works, he revealed: “I’ve just finished a murder novel, featuring an ambassador detective,” he said.
It is doubtful there will be a Ferrero Rocher mentioned in the book.


Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
Updated 3 min 12 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to ship gas to South Korea where it will be used to make hydrogen, and the carbon dioxide produced in the process will be transported straight back to the Kingdom, Asharq reported, citing Bloomberg.

Hyundai Oil Bank Co. will take liquefied petroleum gas cargoes from Saudi Aramco and convert them into hydrogen, to use for chemical and power solutions, the Korean energy company’s parent Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings Company said.

Aramco and Hyundai OilBank Co. agreed in the deal signed on Wednesday, that the carbon dioxide emitted in the hydrogen-making process will be transported back to Aramco, to use it in its oil production facilities, according to a Hyundai Heavy spokesman.

“It seems the project will bank on the idea that shipping LPG to Korea and carbon dioxide back to Saudi Arabia will be cheaper than shipping hydrogen to Korea,” said Martin Tengler, BloombergNEF’s lead hydrogen analyst.

Saudi Aramco has huge quantities of natural gas, which it has identified as a key area of expansion for domestic supply and export in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We basically look at natural gas as an area for growth for the company,” Khalid Al-Dabbagh, Aramco’s chief financial officer, said in an investor call in the run-up to its successful IPO back in 2019.

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
Updated 20 min 35 sec ago

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
  • President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani: SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations
  • By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product

RIYADH: King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), the Dammam-based project backed by Saudi Aramco, added two new anchor tenants on Thursday, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) and AMCO.

President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani said: “SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations. SPARK sits at the heart of the energy market, offering a world-class ecosystem that facilitates the growth of our tenants’ businesses and brings sustained value to our wider communities. SPARK is set to be a fully integrated city, bringing together major national and international companies and fuelling economic growth and job creation.”

TAQA will expand its local operations with the TAQA Industrial Park at SPARK, including a new facility for oilfield services, a specialist unit for engineering and manufacturing, and a wireline and perforation center of excellence.

The facilities will be constructed in two phases starting in the second quarter of 2021, with the design and developmental planning stages having already commenced.

TAQA CEO Khalid Nouh said: “With our plans for future acquisitions focused on cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions, we further cement our alignment with Vision 2030 and the government’s drive to diversify and localize services and manufacturing in the Kingdom.”

AMCO is investing over SR260 million ($69.33 million) in a new center at SPARK. Its plans include the development of facilities to enable the manufacturing and production of steel pipes, valves, pumps, turbines, and machine and rotary equipment.

AMCO’s facilities will be developed in three phases, allowing for the gradual build-up of manufacturing capabilities and onboarding of local talent.

By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product, provide up to 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and localize more than 350 new industrial and service facilities.


GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering
Updated 31 min 17 sec ago

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

Lebanon’s president this week ordered the central bank governor to open an investigation into currency speculation, after the Lebanese pound plunged to record lows on the black market.
But the battered Lebanese pound is not alone among regional currencies that have been decimated by the impact of the pandemic and other factors.
The Syrian pound also fell to a record low on the black market this week, dragged down by its close commercial and banking ties with Lebanon.
“Businessmen and traders are fretting over fears of a free-fall in coming days and watching if unrest grows in Lebanon and its impact on dealings since Lebanon is our lifeline to the outside world,” said one Damascus-based trader told Reuters, who requested anonymity.


Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
Updated 43 min 47 sec ago

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
  • OPEC and allies meet today
  • Oil price rises ahead of meeting

LONDON Oil prices rose more than $1 per barrel on Thursday after Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman urged caution and vigilance at the beginning of a meeting of OPEC ministers and their allies about the future of supply cut
Brent crude futures were up $1.11, or 1.7 percent, at $65.18 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose $1.07, or 1.8 percent to $62.35.
Ministers from OPEC members and their allies started a meeting to discuss the future of an oil output cut at 1300 GMT.
Analysts and traders say a four-month price rally from below $40 a barrel is now out of step with demand and that physical sales are not expected to match supply until later in 2021.
In the United States, despite a record surge of more than 21 million barrels in crude oil stockpiles last week, gasoline stocks fell by the most in 30 years as refining plunged to a record low because of the Texas freeze.


Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Updated 12 min 50 sec ago

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

LONDON: The recovery in oil demand is related to the speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Thursday.

Speaking at the opening of a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that the Kingdom has “contingency and backup plans in case unforeseen things happen,” Al-Ekhbariya reported. 

He added that the situation in the oil market had improved but the outlook for a recovery in demand remained uncertain.

Ministers from OPEC members and their allies started a meeting to discuss the future of an oil output cut at 01:00 P.M. GMT.