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The Euro-Gulf Monitor

15 - 21 March 2024

by Elen'Alba Vitiello

5 Top Points

  1. GCC Secretary General discussed ways to strengthen EU-GCC relations with EU officials in Brussels.

  2. Saudi Arabia plans to establish a $40 billion fund to invest in artificial intelligence (AI).

  3. Oman’s Foreign Minister travelled for an official visit to Spain and Croatia.

  4. Belgium Prime Minister held talks with Qatar’s Emir in Doha.

  5. GCC and Türkiye agreed to start Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

‘Round and About the Gulf

Kingdom of Bahrain 

Tuesday, 19 March–The US State Department approved a $2.2 billion (about €2 billion) sale of advanced 50 M1A2 Abrams battle tanks to Bahrain, in line with last years’ US-Bahrain agreement to enhance defence and economic ties. This will improve the Kingdom’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing a force that can deter adversaries and can participate in regional operations with the United States and its allies. 

State of Kuwait

Friday, 15 March–Kuwait Petroleum International’s (KPI) Italian branch signed an agreement to purchase 50% stake in Italy’s ECO FOX, a company specialising in the production of biofuel. This deal marks a significant advancement in developing, producing, and distributing sustainable biofuels, aligning with the goals of KPI’s energy transition strategy by 2025.

Monday, 18 March–255 candidates, including 14 women, submitted their candidacy for the upcoming Kuwaiti parliamentary elections scheduled for 4 April. Kuwait’s Administrative Court is currently assessing several appeals by individuals whose applications were revoked by the Ministry of Interior.

Sultanate of Oman

Monday, 18 March–Oman’s Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (Madayn) launched the "Explore" platform, aiming to introduce investment opportunities in industrial cities across the Sultanate. The platform enables investors to access data such as leasing policies, investment opportunities, types of activities, and lists of companies in each industrial city. The platform aims to serve both current and potential investors by providing updated investment opportunities and facilitating investment decisions.

 

State of Qatar

Monday, 18 March–Ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas officials resumed in Doha. The indirect talks involved Israel’s Mossad Director, David Barnea, Qatar’s Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Egyptian officials, and Hamas representatives based in Qatar. Hamas proposed a three-stage plan, which was rejected by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as unrealistic. Israel also refused Hamas’ demand that Russia and Turkey would be guarantors of the agreement. Instead, Israeli negotiators are reportedly offering a six-week truce in Gaza in exchange for the release of 40 hostages from Hamas. 

 

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, 20 March–Saudi Arabia plans to establish a $40 billion (about €36.8 billion) fund to invest in artificial intelligence (AI), expected to launch in the second half of 2024. The AI fund aims to support various AI-related tech start-ups, including chip makers and data centres. Representatives from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) discussed potential partnerships with US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and other financiers. Discussions have included the possibility of Andreessen Horowitz establishing an office in Riyadh.

United Arab Emirates

Monday, 18 March–Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) signed a 15-year agreement to supply 1 million metric tons per year of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to a Singaporean subsidiary of Germany's state-owned Securing Energy for Europe (SEFE), beginning deliveries in 2028. ADNOC aims to support Germany's energy diversification and security efforts through this agreement, with the Ruwais project expected to receive final investment approval this year. ADNOC's action is in line with the wider industry shift toward gas, as demonstrated by the corresponding initiatives undertaken by Saudi Aramco and Qatar in the sector.

EU Corner

Monday, 18 March–Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General, Jasem Mohammed Albudaiwi, went on an official visit to Brussels. He separately met with:

  • The Special Representative to the Gulf, Luigi Di Maio, to discuss on the upcoming high-level forum on regional security and cooperation in April;

  • The Head of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Arabian Peninsula, Hannah Neumann, to discuss ways to enhance EU-GCC relations; 

  • The EU External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General, Enrique Mora, and the Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate for Migration and Home Affairs, Beate Gminder, to discuss a Schengen visa waiver process for GCC citizens; 

  • The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the EU Parliament, David McAllister, to review parliamentary diplomatic relations;  

  • The Vice President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, to review strategic relations;

  • The Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy at NATO, Boris Ruge, to discuss GCC-NATO relations and the launch of an ongoing dialogue between the two sides. 

​Moreover, he held a discussions with members of the European External Action Service  (EEAS) Political and Security Committee, chaired by Delphine Pronk. During the meeting, they discussed the GCC-EU cooperation across various levels, particularly in security matters and ongoing commercial, economic, and political relations. They also reviewed the Israel-Hamas crisis and the two-state solution.

Monday, 18 March–The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and leaders of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Italy travelled to Cairo to sign a joint declaration for a strategic and comprehensive partnership with Egypt. The EU-Egypt Partnership will be based on six main pillars—intensified political dialogue, economic stability, investment and trade, migration and mobility, security and law enforcement, and people-to-people exchanges—and will be supported by a new €7.4 billion financial and investment package over the next four years. 

Tuesday, 19 March–The 3rd European Humanitarian Forum, jointly organised by the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council, concluded in Brussels. The event gathered EU and its Member States, countries affected by crises, major donors and humanitarian partner organisations. During the event, the EU and its Member States announced humanitarian funding of €7.7 billion for 2024 and the co-hosts launched a Call for Action for Palestinian children affected by the conflict in Gaza. The event saw the participation of the Saudi aid agency KSrelief, led by its Director of Partnerships and International Relations, Hana Omar, among others.

Key Official Visits

Saturday, 16 March–US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, began his tour to the Middle East, which included stops in Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, aiming to discuss the latest developments in Gaza, including efforts to achieve a six-week ceasefire and secure the release of hostages, as well as review regional tensions, notably the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. In Bahrain, Blinken met with Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. In Jeddah, he met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, and Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud.

Saturday, 16 March–Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, and his accompanying delegation, went on an official visit to Doha, Qatar. De Croo separately met with Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. Bilateral relations and ways to enhance them across various sectors were discussed, as well as regional and international matters, particularly the developments in the Gaza Strip. De Croo expressed Belgium’s appreciation for Qatar’s role in negotiating a ceasefire and hostage release and urged Hamas and Israel ‘to sign a deal immediately.’

Saturday, 16 March–Oman's Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Khalifa bin Ali Alharthy, held a meeting with the Director General of the Near East, Middle East, and North Africa Region at the German Foreign Ministry, Tobias Tunkel, in Muscat. They reviewed the two countries’ bilateral relations and explored ways to bolster cooperation. They also discussed regional issues and ceasefire prospects in Gaza. 

 

Sunday, 17 March–UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and his accompanying delegation went on an official visit to Doha, where he separately met with Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. The meetings focused on enhancing cooperation, and on the latest developments in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the discussions revolved around the escalation of violence in the region and its repercussions on both regional and global stability.

Tuesday, 19 March–Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, received the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Hussein Al-Sheikh, in Manama. Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister reaffirmed the Kingdom’s support for the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution. 

Tuesday, 19 March–Oman’s Foreign Minister, Badr bin Hamad Al-Busaidi, travelled to Spain and Croatia. In Spain, he met with the Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, with whom he discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance them, as well as regional and international issues. In Croatia, he separately met with the Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković, and Foreign Minister, Gordon Crlić Radman. The two sides expressed their keenness to enhance bilateral cooperation. They explored areas for developing partnerships in green economy projects, renewable energy, technology, food security and tourism. 

Wednesday, 20 March–Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, held a phone call with Germany’s President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The discussions primarily focused on reviewing Saudi-German relations and exploring ways to advance cooperation in various fields. They also exchanged views on various international and regional issues.

Thursday, 21 March–Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defence, Khalid bin Salman Al-Saud, met with Yemen’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, in Jeddah. During the meeting, the two ministers reviewed the latest developments in Yemen, the efforts to implement the roadmap under the supervision of the United Nations, and the political process between the Yemeni parties, to achieve security and stability in Yemen.

Thursday, 21 March–During their meeting in Ankara, the GCC Secretary General, Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, and Turkish Minister of Trade, Omer Bola, signed an agreement to initiate Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the GCC and Türkiye. 

 

Thursday, 21 March–Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, and UAE’s State Minister for International Cooperation, Reem Al-Hashimy, participated alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in the Cairo talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Secretary General, Hussein Al-Sheikh.

 

Thursday, 21 March–UAE's Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and COP28 President, Sultan bin Ahmed Al-Jaber, participated in the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial in Denmark. Speaking to climate ministers and leaders, Al-Jaber emphasised the significance of the COP Presidencies Troika in boosting ambition in the forthcoming round of Nationally Determined Contributions. 

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