Appointment of first EU special representative for Gulf region is proof of ambition to work together, Luigi Di Maio tells Arab News

Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, is interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in-Chief Noor Nugali in Riyadh on Thursday. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Alshuhub)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, is interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in-Chief Noor Nugali in Riyadh on Thursday. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Alshuhub)
Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, speaks to Arab News. (Supplied)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, speaks to Arab News. (Supplied)
Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, samples Saudi delicacies in the traditional manner in Riyadh. (Supplied)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, samples Saudi delicacies in the traditional manner in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, meets with Prince Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. (Supplied)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, meets with Prince Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. (Supplied)
Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, meets with Waleed A. Elkhereiji, the vice minister of foreign affairs. (@KSAmofaEN)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, meets with Waleed A. Elkhereiji, the vice minister of foreign affairs. (@KSAmofaEN)
Exclusive The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, began his Riyadh visit with a meeting with Jasem Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the GCC. (GCC)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, began his Riyadh visit with a meeting with Jasem Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the GCC. (GCC)
Exclusive  The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, is pictured with the ambassadors of EU member states in Riyadh. (@eusimonpa)
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The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, is pictured with the ambassadors of EU member states in Riyadh. (@eusimonpa)
Exclusive Deputy Speaker of Shoura Council Dr. Mishaal bin Fahm Al-Salami meets with the first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, in Riyadh on July 12. (Supplied)
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Deputy Speaker of Shoura Council Dr. Mishaal bin Fahm Al-Salami meets with the first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, in Riyadh on July 12. (Supplied)
Exclusive Deputy Speaker of Shoura Council Dr. Mishaal bin Fahm Al-Salami meets with the first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, in Riyadh on July 12. (Supplied)
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Deputy Speaker of Shoura Council Dr. Mishaal bin Fahm Al-Salami meets with the first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, in Riyadh on July 12. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 July 2023
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Appointment of first EU special representative for Gulf region is proof of ambition to work together, Luigi Di Maio tells Arab News

The first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, is interviewed by Arab News Assistant EIC Noor Nugali.
  • Lauds prospects for future EU-Gulf cooperation on energy, climate and giga-projects in his first visit to the region in new post
  • Looking forward to meetings with Arab officials ahead of October’s EU-GCC Ministerial Meeting in Oman, Di Maio says in exclusive interview

RIYADH: On his first trip to Saudi Arabia since being appointed the first EU special representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio has told Arab News that recent world events show that new collaborations are needed.

He was responding to the question whether European nations can afford to ignore the rise of the GCC and Arab Gulf states in a multipolar world.

“I think that the world is changing and there are new partnerships to build,” Di Maio said during an interview on Thursday that touched on topics ranging from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the economic empowerment of women and young people in the Kingdom.

“There are old partnerships that we built during the last decades. But we are in a period where everything is changing, because of the terrible Russian aggression against Ukraine, because of the pandemic. 

“And you (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) are taking some initiatives in the region that are very interesting for us and are very welcoming if they are oriented to de-escalation. So, I think that it’s not a question of ignoring or considering, but we have to work together.”

Di Maio, who took on his new brief on June 1, said the creation of his role should eliminate all doubt about the EU’s intention to deepen ties with the Gulf region.

“That the EU and the 27 EU member states appointed for the first time an EU special representative for the Gulf region is proof of our new ambition to take our work together to a new strategic level. And when I say ‘partnership,’ I mean a real partnership based on dialogue, respect and results,” he said.

Asked whether the decision to create the office of the EU special representative for the Gulf region had been accelerated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent global energy crisis, Di Maio said the move predated the conflict, and instead reflected the EU’s genuine interest in fostering closer bilateral ties.

“We started the negotiation and the creation of the joint communication before the Russian aggression on Ukraine,” he said.

“I was still a minister at the time. And I remember the process. The idea was the importance that you have at multilateral and bilateral level, and how the EU can do more in order to update the level of the partnership. 

“Then the Russian aggression arrived. And I think it was a very good thing to approve the joint communication and to work on the appointment of the EUSR, because in a period where at the multilateral and bilateral level is changing everything in the geopolitical framework, it’s very important to be closer to our partners, our strategic partners.”

Di Maio began his Riyadh visit with a meeting with Jasem Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the GCC, where the parties concerned “advanced preparations for a fruitful upcoming EU-GCC Council on October 10 (in Oman) — a key milestone for implementing our strategic partnership.”

Di Maio also met with Prince Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and Waleed A. Elkhereiji, the vice minister of foreign affairs.

Later he met with his European colleagues, including Patrick Simonnet, the EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. 

Di Maio was even invited to sample some Saudi delicacies. 

Although energy continues to play a key role in the relationship, Di Maio said the EU and its member states are excited by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, which he believes aligns with many of the EU’s own projects, such as NextGenerationEU, the European Green Deal, and the region’s growing interest in hydrogen energy. 

“The hydrogen projects that you are developing here are very important and we can try to have a strong dialogue about the ambitions in the hydrogen field, in particular about the demand of Europe, about the hydrogen and your supply of hydrogen in the direction of Europe,” he said. 

“And above that we are not only speaking about energy. We are speaking about technologies, research. We are speaking about universities, schools. Because everything is linked to the new horizon of hydrogen and energy. 

“And you, as countries that now are suppliers of energy to Europe, you are investing a lot in new technologies, in renewable energies. So, it’s a very good field where we can have a dialogue and we can try to have more synergies, I’m sure.”

During this week’s visit, Di Maio was able to see first-hand the progress of Vision 2030 since its launch by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, which ushered in a host of reforms designed to boost economic participation for women and young people, and to create a business environment conducive to shifting the Kingdom away from oil into new industries.

“I visited the Shoura (Council) yesterday and they explained to me how many laws they are changing in order to align Vision 2030 with the framework of the regulations of the country,” said Di Maio. 

“You are making a transformation of your country. And Vision 2030 — it’s one of the important points that are showing us this change. And I met in Brussels not only with your great ambassador, but even, for instance, with the deputy CEO of the NEOM project.

“When I met His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, we spoke about NEOM and the projects, about the Vision 2030 and some innovative projects like NEOM. I think that now the real challenge is to try to work together about these projects, about our Green Deal, about our NextGenerationEU and your Vision 2030, NEOM projects and others.”

Di Maio believes there is scope for far greater European investment in Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects, including its smart city NEOM now taking shape on the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast.

The EU and Saudi Arabia already have strong trade and investment ties. In fact, the EU is Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest trading partner and number one foreign direct investor. Di Maio said he has no doubt that trade and investment ties will grow stronger. 

“Of course. Now, in particular with your new programs about new technologies, new energies, and even education and our programs and projects that we are developing in the EU, where the (European) Commission and the member states are developing new projects oriented in the same way, in the same direction, I think that there is the opportunity to do more.

“Not only in order to increase the figures, but in order to increase the substance of our relations through these kinds of projects that are linked to the future of our young people and to our young country and you are looking forward to the new opportunities for these young people.”

The relationship between the EU and the Gulf states extends beyond trade and energy, however. Di Maio said common security concerns also play a key role in the strategic partnership. 

“It’s very important to say that in my mandate, one of the pillars is security,” he said. 

“But not only in a classic way, where we are speaking about maritime security or the classic concept of security, or we can speak even about cybersecurity, about counterterrorism initiatives … We have to speak about, as I said, in an innovative way, the nexus between security and climate. It’s very important.”

He added: “My mandate is of a facilitator of smart solutions, of supporting regional diplomatic efforts aimed at making ongoing de-escalation efforts sustainable. I am here to listen, to understand sensitivities and priorities of the countries in the region. And I am 100 percent dedicated to this great responsibility and to successfully implement it together with the EU member states, EU institutions, with you and the countries in the Gulf region.”

Last week, the Gulf countries issued a strong condemnation of Sweden’s decision to permit the burning of a copy of the Qu’ran in the capital Stockholm by an Iraqi migrant. 

Asked whether his office has a role in preventing such acts as part of its mandate to build a strategic partnership with the Gulf countries, Di Maio said the EU wholeheartedly rejects the burning of holy texts — a view he says he raised during meetings this week.

“In every bilateral meeting I had during this visit, I raised the point from the beginning of the meeting in order to say that this individual burning of the Qur’an, it’s unacceptable, and any kind of burning of a holy book, it’s a clear provocation, is disrespectful, and at the same time, as I said, the EU rejects it,” he said.

“I think that any kind of racism, xenophobia and provocation does not have a place in our societies. And now is the time to work together to prevent further escalation and prevent these acts from happening.”

At their meeting on Wednesday, Albudaiwi, the GCC secretary-general, said Di Maio conveyed the EU’s regret, rejection and condemnation of the burning of the copy of the Qur’an.

Having made the transition from serving as Italy’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister to his current posting with the EU, Di Maio said he has always supported a greater role for the EU in forging ties between Europeans and the wider world.

“At the time when I was minister of foreign affairs for two years and previously deputy prime minister for two years, I supported, totally, the idea that in order to be stronger as member states, we need the EU as an interlocutor of other areas of the world,” he said.

“And the European continent, the EU specifically, it’s the real institution that can be a leverage for the member states of the EU in order to make new partnerships with the rest of the world.”

 


Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions

Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions
Updated 13 April 2024
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Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions

Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions
  • Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Israeli bombardment of several villages near the border

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said it fired “dozens of Katyusha rockets” at Israeli artillery positions Friday, a bombardment it said was in response to Israeli strikes in the south.
Hamas ally Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7 triggering war in Gaza.
Hezbollah fighters targeted “enemy artillery positions... with dozens of Katyusha rockets” the group said in a statement, adding it was “in response to the enemy’s attacks on... southern villages and civilian homes.”
The Israeli army said “approximately 40 launches were identified crossing from Lebanese territory, some of which were intercepted.”
“No injuries were reported,” it said, adding that it had earlier intercepted two Hezbollah attack drones that had crossed from Lebanon.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Israeli bombardment of several villages near the border.
The violence has so far killed at least 363 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also including at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media

Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media
Updated 13 April 2024
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Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media

Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media
  • Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight, but local media said it began after the SSA detained Radaa members in retaliation for the detention of one of its members by the rival group

TRIPOLI: Clashes between powerful Libyan armed groups broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, local media reported.
The clashes overnight Thursday into Friday lasted for about one hour but claimed no lives, the reports said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past four years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Witnesses said they heard exchanges of fire, including from heavy weapons, in Tripoli’s Abu Salim neighborhood, an area controlled by the Stability Support Authority (SSA).
Gunmen from SSA clashed with elements of the Special Deterrence Force (Radaa), the media reports said.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight, but local media said it began after the SSA detained Radaa members in retaliation for the detention of one of its members by the rival group.
Both groups released the detainees the same night.
Families who were observing the second day of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations had to flee nearby cafes and parks during the clash, the media reports said.
SSA and the Special Deterrence Force evolved from the militias that filled a security vacuum following Qaddafi’s overthrow.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Friday denounced “the recurring use of violence to settle disputes,” in a statement on X.
Condemning “chronic insecurity,” UNSMIL called for Libya to “prioritize elections to establish legitimate governing bodies.”
“Those responsible must be held accountable,” it said.
In Tripoli, the SSA and Radaa groups are not under the direct authority of the ministries of interior or defense, though they receive public funds.
They operate independently and received a special status from the prime minister and the presidential council in 2021.
The groups are most visible at roundabouts and main street intersections, where their often-masked members staff checkpoints, blocking traffic with weapon-mounted armored vehicles.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when Radaa and the 444 Brigade clashed.
In February this year, at least 10 people including SSA members were shot dead in Tripoli.
Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi then announced that armed groups in Tripoli agreed to leave and be replaced with regular forces.
He gave no time frame but suggested the measure would be implemented after Ramadan.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.
 

 


Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police

Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police
Updated 13 April 2024
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Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police

Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police
  • Tunisia has seen large numbers of people set themselves alight since the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in late 2010 sparked the Arab Spring and led to the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

TUNIS: A young Tunisian man died after self-immolating in an act of protest against the police in the central region of Kairouan, his family said Friday.
Yassine Selmi, a 22-year-old construction worker, died Thursday in a hospital in Tunis, two days after setting himself on fire in front of a police station, his father Mansour Selmi told AFP.
He was attempting to “resolve a fight between two people and police officers near a police station” when the officers threatened to arrest him in Bou Hajjla, a small town in Kairouan, said his father.
The young man later came back to the police station with a gasoline container and “set himself on fire in protest” over the police’s threats, the father added.
He said he would seek justice for his son’s death.
Tunisia has seen large numbers of people set themselves alight since the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in late 2010 sparked the Arab Spring and led to the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Many of the cases have been concentrated in non-coastal areas that are the hardest hit by Tunisia’s economic crisis.
The North African country’s debt currently hovers around 80 percent of its GDP, with a yearly inflation averaging up to 10 percent and an unemployment rate of 40 percent among its youth.
The latest incident came just days after another street vendor in the coastal city of Sfax set herself on fire after a dispute with the police.
Local media said the woman, who was originally from Kairouan, was taken to a hospital with severe burns.
Last year, Nizar Aissaoui, a professional football player in a local team also from Kairouan, self-immolated in protest against what he described as “the police state.”
The wider Kairouan region tops national rankings in unemployment, illiteracy and suicides.
It recorded 26 out of the nation’s 147 documented and attempted suicides in 2023, according to the non-government group FTDES.
 

 


Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded

Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded
Updated 13 April 2024
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Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded

Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded

ISTANBUL: One person was killed and seven injured Friday when a cable car pod in southern Turkiye hit a pole and burst open, sending the passengers plummeting to the mountainside below, officials and local media said. Scores of other people were left stranded late into the night after the entire cable car system came to a standstill.
Two children were among the injured in the accident at the Tunektepe cable car just outside the Mediterranean city of Antalya at about 6 p.m. during the busy Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.
Anadolu identified the deceased as a 54-year-old Turkish man, and said six Turkish citizens and one Kyrgyz national were injured.
Five of the injured were ferried off the mountain by helicopter and efforts continued to remove the other two injured people, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said three hours after the accident. The rescue operation involved more than 160 first responders including air crews from the Coast Guard and mountaineering teams from different parts of Turkiye, the minister posted on social media site X.
Some 184 other passengers were trapped in 25 other cable car pods dozens of feet (tens of meters) above the ground as engineers tried to restart the system, Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek said in a statement. Helicopters with night vision imaging were heading to the site, he said.
Search and rescue agency AFAD later said 49 people had been rescued from the suspended pods, leaving 135 still stranded close to midnight — about six hours after the accident.
Images in Turkish media showed the battered car swaying from dislodged cables on the side of the rocky mountain as medics tended the wounded.
Friday was the final day of a three-day public holiday in Turkiye marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which sees families flock to coastal resorts.
The cable car carries tourists from Konyaalti beach to a restaurant and viewing platform at the summit of the 618-meter (2,010-feet) Tunektepe peak. It is run by Antalya Metropolitan Municipality.
Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation. An expert commission including mechanical and electrical engineers and health and safety experts was assigned to determine the cause of the incident.


Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt

Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt
Updated 13 April 2024
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Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt

Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt
  • Parties stress need to remove all obstacles to ensure adequate supplies are sent
  • Blinken also spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry

LONDON: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Friday received a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, and attempts to transport sufficient aid into the area, especially through Jordan.

The parties stressed the need to remove all obstacles to ensure the adequate and immediate entry of aid into the besieged Palestinian territory, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The Jordanian minister stressed the importance of opening all crossings for the entry of aid, and the need for supplies to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

He said that Jordan would be able to send hundreds of trucks to Gaza daily as soon as the northern crossings were opened, allowing the UN and its agencies to receive and distribute the aid.

Safadi also stressed the need to end the Israeli assault on Gaza, and warned of “the disastrous consequences of an Israeli ground offensive against Rafah” in the southern Gaza Strip, Petra added.

US State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, confirmed both officials focused on “diplomatic efforts to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He provided details on their efforts to secure an immediate ceasefire, which they hoped would continue “over a period of at least six weeks” as part of a hostage release deal with Hamas.

“Blinken thanked Jordan for its leadership in facilitating the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, including through joint US-Jordan airdrops and deliveries by land,” Miller also said.

The two parties discussed regional developments and efforts to reduce escalation in the conflict by Iran, as well as a number of bilateral issues.

Blinken also spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday, and the parties agreed to maintain “constant Egypt-US consultations to contain the crisis in Gaza, end the war, and sustain aid delivery,” said Ahmed Abu Zeid, the spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He added that Shoukry emphasized the “risks of regional conflict expansion and the unfolding consequences on (the) security and safety of the people.”