H.E. Sami Al Sulaiman recently took over as Kuwait’s Ambassador to France, after the completion of a successful six year ambassadorial posting in India.
In an exclusive interview held in Paris with The Times Kuwait, Ambassador Sulaiman spoke at length about the strong and friendly bilateral relations between Kuwait and France and his attempts to further cement the cordial ties existing between the two countries.
“Our relations with France goes back to a long time ago and takes into account the mutual interests and eagerness of both countries to deepen and strengthen cooperation in all fields,” he said. “We recall with gratitude, France’s legitimate and supportive stance with Kuwait during Saddam’s treacherous invasion and occupation. This act has been preceded and followed by good relations between the two friendly countries in all areas.
“In support of these relations there have been visits at the highest level between officials of both countries. Most recently, France received H.H. the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al Sabah and a high level delegation that included First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and the Minister of Finance, as well as a large number of businessmen who met with their French counterparts.
“During the visit a number of agreements were signed promoting Kuwaiti-French relations to a higher and wider level, not only in military, cultural and economic cooperation but also in the field of scientific research. “The accompanying business delegation also met with their counterparts in the French Employers' Federation. These bilateral meetings, which were held under the auspices of the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anas Al-Saleh, resulted in several contracts being signed between the two sides.
“The French President also received His Highness the Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace during which the President reiterated French policy towards the security of the Gulf region.” Elaborating on the mutual interests of both nations, Ambassador Sulaiman stated, “France is a favorite financial destination for Kuwait and there are several large Kuwaiti investments here. It is also a medical destination for many patients; we have about 660 Kuwaitis receiving treatment here in France. We also have a large number of Kuwaiti students studying in universities and French institutes; there are also Kuwaiti military trainees in French military academies.
“On the cultural side, Kuwait has expressed its interest and support for the diverse and remarkable cultural movement in France. Paris is the capital of culture, and Kuwait also lends its support to the Arab World Institute, which was established in Paris to conduct research and disseminate information about the Arab world and its cultural and spiritual values. Kuwait has already donated four million dollars to support the activities of this institute. In addition, His Highness the Amir has donated a wing at the world-famous Louvre Museum to highlighting the culture of the Islamic world.”
Elaborating on the military and security agreements between the two countries, Ambassador Sulaiman said, “Recently a deal was signed to sell French Caracal helicopters to Kuwait, which is keen to diversify its sources of armament in order to ensure its security from external threats. However, before signing the deal, Kuwait had thoroughly examined the capabilities of the aircraft and the feasibilities of its weapons.”
The ambassador also disclosed that France recently received Kuwait’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior Suleiman Al-Fahd. “During the visit, the two sides expressed their interest to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in security areas. Kuwait is keen to exchange experiences not only with France, but with all countries of the world, and the French have expressed their willingness to provide technical and security advice to Kuwait.”
Speaking about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and their impact on the movement of Kuwaiti tourists to France, Ambassador Sulaiman clarified that the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November were a despicable act. “Kuwait was quick to condemn this heinous crime and to stand in solidarity with our French friends in their moment of sorrow. We have officially delivered a personal message of His Highness the Amir to the French president on Saturday, hours after the attack, in which His Highness expressed condemnation of the criminal incident and Kuwait’s full support to France.
Elucidating the embassy’s role in depicting the tolerance of Islam, the envoy noted, “I'd like to point out and pay tribute to the speech of the French President Francois Hollande, after the attacks of 13 November, when he said that there is no conflict of civilizations and that Islam is innocent of this crime, even if it was carried out by persons who may belong to Arab nationalities or are Muslims. Terrorism has no religion and hides its hideous shape under the guise of every image and every religion and consequently, there is an international effort to contain and fight it. This terrorism is directed against Islam before being brought to another religion, and therefore there are efforts being undertaken by Islamic countries and friendly countries, as well as international efforts to stamp it out. What distinguishes France is the great diversity of its communities and cultures, so it not surprising that riots do not occur from a certain class against other. On the contrary, there is a French commitment and confirmation to the preservation of tolerance and coexistence among all spectrums of society and the values of its people. As for Kuwait, we are providing for the safety and well-being of all who live on the land of Kuwait, regardless of religion or culture.”
Speaking about planned future visits by officials of the two countries, the envoy said, “After the successful visit of His Highness the Prime Minister, where he handed a message from H.H. the Amir to the French president inviting him to visit Kuwait, we expect that visit will take place during the first half of 2016. Also, the French prime minister is expected to visit Kuwait soon on a working visit and we are currently working on next year's agenda that includes visits at various levels.”
Expanding on the trade exchanges between the two countries, the ambassador added, “Currently good economic relations exist between the two countries but it is does not sufficiently reflect the ambitions of both sides. We expect more French investments in Kuwait in several areas, and also participation by French companies in Kuwait’s development plan.
“There is also French interest in setting up a branch of the University of La Sorbonne in Kuwait, and also a branch of Gustav Rossi, the specialized French cancer hospital. In addition, agreements have been signed between the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and concerned French companies on setting up desalination projects in Kuwait.
“Also there are several Kuwaiti investments in large French companies and bilateral trade between the two countries, which was around a billion euros in 2012, climbed to 1.8 billion euros in 2013. However, in 2014 there was a steep fall in bilateral trade due to the slowing down of economic growth in Europe and the fall in international oil prices. We hope that economic conditions in Europe improve and we are working with the French to strengthen bilateral trade.”
In a question on his diplomatic career, Ambassador Sulaiman revealed that his first assignment was in Sweden and after that he moved to India, where he served for six years before coming to France. Saying that the six years he spent in India were some of his most happy and fruitful years, the envoy added, “In one word, I would express my experience in India as just ‘Incredible’.
“India is a country aspiring to have a role on the international stage and I think it deserves that role. India is an important country that has been achieving a good rate of economic growth in recent years and is moving in the right way as it seeks to enter the ranks of economically developed countries. For Kuwait, India is a strategic partner in the economic field and stands in support of Kuwait and other Gulf states in many cases. Moreover, India is the second largest importer of Kuwaiti oil and the volume of trade between India and Kuwait reached US$17.2 billion last year. Kuwait and India have relations that go back centuries and India was the fifth country to recognize the independence of Kuwait and this will never be forgotten.”
On a personal note the ambassador revealed that there was a high price that diplomats paid in terms of family life, as the frequent travel and movement from one country to another impacted ties with their counterparts in Kuwait. “On the other hand, there are good features such as the family lives together, I live with them moment by moment and because of a sense of alienation, we tend to help and support each other more. The family also enjoys the benefit of immersing themselves in more cultural diversity, new languages and social life,” he added.
In an advice to Kuwaitis who come to France for treatment, he urged them to abide by the regulations of treatment and follow up on the expiry of their visas. To those who come for education, he asked them to be committed to the mission’s laws and that they should be the best ambassadors of Kuwait. “I would advise them to devote their time to science and benefit from the French experience without entering into useless debates which may reflect negatively on them. To those who come for tourism, I would like them to provide the best appearance of Kuwait in front of the French people and not to be a party to any conflict in hotels or restaurants.
“We at the embassy are ready to receive any complaints or inquiries or to help with any distress that any Kuwait citizen might face in France and we have our emergency numbers all the time. Our colleagues at the Embassy are happy to meet any request from any Kuwaiti citizen,” said the ambassador on a closing note.
By Reaven D’Souza