Czech Republic hopes to establish ‘strategic partnership’ with Saudi Arabia, Czech FM tells Arab News

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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meeting with Czech FM Jakub Kulhanek at his office in Riyadh. (SPA)
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FM Jakub Kulhanek wants Saudi investment companies to participate in the Czech-GCC Investment Forum in his country next year.  (Supplied)
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Saudi officials welcome Czech FM Jakub Kulhanek and his delegation in Riyadh ahead of a meeting. (Supplied)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Czech Republic hopes to establish ‘strategic partnership’ with Saudi Arabia, Czech FM tells Arab News

  • Jakub Kulhanek says his country and KSA have much to offer each other in a number of fields
  • Czech companies see “great potential in delivering knowhow and technologies to” KSA mega-projects

Last week, Jakub Kulhanek, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, paid his first official visit to Saudi Arabia to hold meetings with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Kulhanek spoke on the discussions the two sides held on bilateral relations and the means to enhance them, as well as regional and international issues, notably Afghanistan.

“My official visit to Saudi Arabia lasted just some 30 hours, and the only city I visited was Riyadh,” he told Arab News. “For me, there is an obligation to come back once again in the future and enjoy visiting Jeddah, the futuristic megacity of NEOM and other famous places of interest.”

Q. How would you describe your meetings with Saudi officials during your just concluded visit?

A. First of all, I would like to thank the Saudi government and all my counterparts whom I was privileged to meet for their generosity and time they spent on preparing our visit. They set up a wonderful program. We had insightful meetings, and I am confident that we have together managed to take relations between our countries one level higher.

During my meeting with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, we reassured each other that our relations are friendly and that the general standing of our countries is in many ways complementary. We have much to offer each other in areas of trade, scientific cooperation, the energy sector, mining and the security industry.

The Kingdom, together with the UAE, belong to our top five trade partners in the Middle East. That is something we can build on, something we are obligated to develop. And that is also the reason why I was accompanied by a trade mission of more than 20 distinguished business people from various industrial fields.

At the same time, our cooperation is not limited only to business. We have a long run tradition of cooperation in the health sector. Many Saudis study at Czech universities. Saudi citizens are frequent fliers when it comes to our spa resorts.

With Prince Faisal, we agreed on the need to revitalize the Czech-Saudi Joint Commission, which has not met since 2011. It is a useful platform bringing together representatives of committed ministries to discuss specific issues of mutual interest.

Czech FM Jakub Kulhanek and his delegation visiting Diriyah heritage site in Riyadh. (Supplied)

Q. Did you discuss political cooperation with Saudi Arabia on regional and development issues?

A. It goes without saying that visiting the Kingdom and meeting its leaders gave me a unique chance to discuss issues of international politics and global issues alike. We agreed, both with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir, my fellow Georgetown alumnus, that we want to formalize regular consultations between our foreign affairs ministries. We hope for an establishment of a strategic partnership in the near future.

We also shared with our Saudi hosts the need to intensify contacts at the highest political level. I hope that the foreign minister will come in the near future for a visit to the Czech Republic. I was also glad to hand over an invitation for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit the Czech Republic.

Czech FM Jakub Kulhanek with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir at Diriyah heritage site in Riyadh. (Supplied)

Q. What kind of cross-investment flows do you envisage between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic?

A. Thank you very much for that question, since I truly believe there is a great potential for bigger Saudi investments. Over the last 30 years, the Czech Republic has attracted many foreign investors, from both portfolio and green foreign direct investments, from Europe, the US and Asia.

So far, the Gulf investors have been slightly lagging behind, though we are already seeing that some of them are starting to discover existing opportunities for investments in Central Europe. Therefore, we plan on organizing an investment forum for representatives of sovereign funds from the Gulf region, at which they will have the chance to meet managers of foremost Czech financial groups.

The Czech-GCC Investment Forum will be held between May 30 and June 4, 2022, shoulder to shoulder with the presidency of the Czech Republic in the Council of the EU in the second half of 2022.

I would like to invite the managers of the Public Investment Fund and other important financial groups in the Kingdom to take part in the event.

FM Jakub Kulhanek wants Saudi investment companies to participate in the Czech-GCC Investment Forum in his country next year.  (Supplied)

Q. Do you see a greater role for Czech technology companies in the Kingdom’s ongoing development projects under Vision 2030? In what sectors would these mainly be and what impact would they have?

A. In my opinion, the ambitious Vision 2030, its goals and the projects it leans upon, provide Czech companies with numerous opportunities, mostly on subcontracting basis. We are truly interested in facilitating the access of the Czech companies to the tenders floated by Saudi state-owned enterprises. We see a great potential in delivering Czech knowhow, technologies and high-tech products to the government's megaprojects, be it NEOM, the Red Sea Resort, or the Green Riyadh initiative.

We are confident that Saudi enterprises, such as Saudi Aramco, SABIC and many others, would also benefit from it.

Q. Before your departure for the Gulf, you said that the Czech Republic will not recognize the Taliban. Can you kindly elaborate on your statement?

A. I think we have to distinguish carefully between two separate things. The first is communication with the Taliban, who are no doubt the new rulers of the country. It is clear that the EU and NATO will not avoid interacting with them just so that we can provide the Afghan people with the humanitarian aid that they are in dire need of now.

I am not talking about high-level and official contacts, but communication at the working level will have to take place. Another thing is official recognition of the Taliban government; great caution is necessary here. I believe the Taliban are far from fulfilling their promises. The media are informing us how they are behaving in the streets of Afghan cities and what atrocities are being committed.

FM Jakub Kulhanek says Czech companies are also ready to participate in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 programs. (AFP file photo)

Q. You have also said your country will accept the unhappy reality “as it is” that the Taliban are “the new masters of Afghanistan.” Can you deal with the Taliban without implicitly granting it recognition?

A. The EU and NATO must be pragmatic and accept the new reality in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we will give up our effort to put pressure on the Taliban to maintain at least something of what has been achieved in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.

I am talking now, in particular, about the rights of women and girls. So yes, the international community can negotiate with the Taliban over that and, depending on the outcome, maybe the question of official recognition of the Taliban government would become topical in the future.

Q. What leverage does the EU have over the Taliban in your view? Are the Czech Republic and EU positions totally convergent?

A. The position of the Czech Republic is fully in line with EU policy. As you know, just recently EU foreign ministers agreed at their informal meeting in Slovenia that any substantive engagement with the Taliban is only possible if some conditions are met: Respect for human rights, in particular women’s rights, and the establishment of a representative inclusive government, are among them.

Afghan women's rights defenders and civil activists protest in Kabul on Sept. 3, 2021 to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education. (REUTERS/File Photo)

I am not convinced that the Taliban would meet them sometime soon. We understand the necessity of keeping the EU’s presence in Kabul but the Czech Republic had to evacuate our diplomats and Afghan facilitators.

Communication with the Taliban is necessary, as we must try to influence the way they will rule the country, at least to prevent humanitarian and migration crises. The Taliban will seek international recognition and resources — that is our main leverage now.

Q. International organizations with offices in Afghanistan have repeatedly warned of an impending humanitarian disaster. There is rising hunger, little cash and very little health care. How can the international community help Afghans?

A. We are aware of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. An international donors’ conference was held in Geneva last Monday under the auspices of the UN. The international community, including the Czech Republic, has pledged to continue humanitarian aid. The Czech Republic has declared its readiness to increase its contribution to humanitarian and development projects in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border

Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border

JEDDAH: Saudi border patrols in Jazan, Najran, and Asir on Tuesday thwarted attempts to smuggle more than one ton of cannabis and 66 tons of qat into the Kingdom.

Border Guard spokesman, Col. Misfir Al-Qarni, said 150 people were arrested in connection with the smuggling bid, 47 of them Saudis, and 103 illegal immigrants of which 89 were Ethiopian, 10 Yemenis, three Somalis, and one Eritrean.

Al-Qarni said that the border guards will be not lax in carrying out their duties to confront anyone who tries to endanger the security of the Kingdom or transfer such substances through its borders illegally.

Saudi authorities, in cooperation with their UAE counterparts, recently prevented an attempt to sneak 1.5 million amphetamine pills into the Kingdom through Batha port hidden in a truck carrying grain.

A Saudi citizen, and a resident of Syria were arrested in Riyadh.

In May, Saudi authorities foiled a plot to smuggle almost 1,000 kg of hashish into the Kingdom through its southern borders. Twenty-four people — 18 Ethiopians, four Yemenis and two Saudis. were arrested. AN Jeddah

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

Updated 20 October 2021

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

  • Grand parade and fireworks display in opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest entertainment festival

RIYADH: The Cuban-American rap star Pitbull will launch this year’s Riyadh Season festival with a sold-out concert on Wednesday that will be broadcast live.
The opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest celebration of music, dining, and entertainment will also feature a parade and fireworks show.
The festival site covers 5.4 million square meters, divided into 14 zones — Boulevard Riyadh City, Al’Athriyah, Oasis, Combat Field, Riyadh Front, Qariat Zaman, Winter Wonderland, the Groves, VIA Riyadh, Riyadh Safari, Nabd Al Riyadh, Alsalam Tree, Almurabaa, and Khaloha.
There will be 16 events this month alone — WWE Crown Jewel on Oct. 21, Rush Gaming Festival from Oct. 22 to 26, the Crystal Maze live experience on Oct. 22, the Global Town Festival on Oct. 27, the Champions of Magic show on Oct. 27, and the Messi 10 Cirque Du Soleil show on Oct. 29.
And that’s just the start, with a total of 7,500 events, programs and activities for all age groups and interests. This year, children and fans of the nursery rhymes show CoComelon will be able to meet the characters while visiting their home, school, and farm in the Winter Wonderland zone.
Most events are free, and those that require tickets will be listed on the Riyadh Season 2021 website. Visitors must link their tickets to the Tawakkalna app, which has a new security feature to prevent tickets being misused or resold.
The entertainment sector will be a key contributor to the growth of the economy as part of Vision 2030. Riyadh Season will support the tourism and leisure sector and provide a unique experience for visitors. It continues until March 2022.

KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation

Updated 20 October 2021

KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation

JEDDAH: The 3rd annual Red Sea Film Festival has opened its doors to cinema world enthusiasts to register and receive accreditation for the inaugural in-person edition of the most anticipated cinematic event of the year.

From red carpet premieres  and concerts, an industry program, workshops, interactive community events to acclaimed festival gems and beautifully restored treasures, the festival will be held in Saudi Arabia’s most evocative historical quarter — Jeddah Old Town — from Dec. 6-15.  It is an annual festival, launched in 2019, but the past two editions were held virtually due to the pandemic.

With more than 100 films from around the world to be showcased, including the best cinematic works from the region, the festival will provide industry professionals with an exclusive opportunity to be part of a unique experience.

The festival provide a platform for Arab filmmakers and industry professionals from around the world to connect, host feature and short film competitions, and present a series of events, master classes, and workshops to support emerging talent. 

Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief

Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia has urged the need for greater international efforts toward disaster relief assistance at the UN in New York.

It came as the Kingdom addressed the UN Sixth Committee, the body’s primary forum for legal questions.

The 76th session of the UN General Assembly was held Monday to discuss agenda item 87, “the protection of persons in the event of disasters.”

In a speech, Nidaa Abu Ali, a member of the Kingdom’s permanent delegation to the UN in New York, addressed item 87 as a “fundamental principle” of humanitarianism.

Abu Ali said that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic “demonstrated the fast-paced speed at which disasters occur,” urging the need for a global response framework and cooperation in disaster situations.

She added that the Kingdom is a leading country in implementing strong and immediate measures in response to emergency crises while also assisting at the international level by providing humanitarian relief and economic assistance to developing countries.

Abu Ali noted that since its establishment in 2015, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has contributed to meeting urgent needs in cooperation with international organizations by combating disasters and food scarcity through financial and logistical support. During the Kingdom’s 2020 G20 Presidency, Abu Ali said that the most notable effort in combating the global pandemic and salvaging the global economy was the $11 billion allocated for medical support in developing countries.

On a national level, Abu Ali stressed the Kingdom’s initiative, associated with the Sustainable Development Goals, to activate a national strategy to reduce disaster risks, integrating measures into local development activities.

The strategy will aid in the reduction of risk, especially in vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

In her final comments, Abu Ali urged the need to find a common legal framework to facilitate international humanitarian aid and international cooperation.

She expressed the Kingdom’s support for preparing an international legal instrument and convention to ensure the protection of people during times of disaster in a manner that does not conflict with the sovereignty or national legislation of countries around the world.

Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms

Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms

  • Pupils under the age of 12 will continue to be taught remotely for safety reasons pending further studies, officials said

JEDDAH: With less than two weeks to go until elementary students were due to return to classrooms in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education has announced that they will continue to be taught remotely until further notice, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The proposed Oct. 31 return to in-person teaching has been postponed for safety reasons, the ministry said.

It added that it requires further epidemiological data about the COVID-19 situation in the Kingdom as part of a risk assessment before a decision can be made on the resumption of in-person learning for children below the age of 12.

“The ministry will continue its efforts to offer virtual learning to the age group through ‘Madrasati’ (online platform) for the elementary level and ‘Rawdaty’ for preschool level,” it said.

The Ministries of Health and Education have been working together to ensure the successful resumption of in-person education for middle-school and high-school students.

In August, the Ministry of Education announced that, in accordance with regulations issued by the Health Ministry, fully vaccinated students over the age of 12 would return to classrooms. Those who are not fully vaccinated will continue to be taught remotely, with classwork uploaded to the ministry-approved Madrasati platform.

On Oct. 12, the Ministry of Education issued a directive urging education authorities across the Kingdom to ensure that all students are fully vaccinated, and reiterating that those who are not will have to remain at home. Students were given two weeks from the start of the semester to complete the vaccination process.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 49 new COVID-19 cases in the Kingdom and two related deaths.

The latest figures put the total number of cases so far recorded in the country at 548,018 and the overall death toll at 8,767.

Health officials said there were currently 2,214 active cases, of which 90 patients were in a serious or critical condition.

Among the newly reported cases, 16 were in Riyadh, nine in Jeddah, three in Jubail, and two in both Al-Darb and Makkah.

The ministry also announced that 38 patients had recovered from COVID-19, taking the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 537,037.

A further 45,275 polymerase chain reaction tests had been carried out in the last 24-hour period, meaning that to date more than 29.8 million PCR checks had been conducted in the country.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that at least 44.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started and more than 20.8 million people were now fully vaccinated.