Abu Dhabi, Asharq Al-Awsat – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spent the last four days visiting three Gulf states as part of his efforts to lead in tackling the international financial crisis. Brown had a message of assurance to the region of his understanding of the importance to include the region in the decision-making process regarding the global economy, through reforms of bodies like the IMF. He spoke exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat about his visit, along with his continued interest to support Iraq militarily and financially, while highlighting the importance of maintaining momentum in the Middle East Peace Process.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Q: You visit the Gulf region at a time of a heightened financial crisis. What can the Gulf and other Arab countries do to help deal with this crisis and more importantly what do they get in return?
A: I think the first thing to recognise is that this is a global crisis which requires a global solution and it cannot be solved without all countries working together. Whatever the cause of the current crisis, it has got to be solved by us all working in harmony.
I think that here we have to recognise that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar and many of the countries here should have a larger part to play in the running of the global financial system in the future but equally where countries have some reserves they can contribute to making the whole international markets stronger. So there is a proposal for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) facility where countries are in distress like Hungary and Pakistan they can be given support and I think we can all play a part in making that happen.
Q: Have you been happy with the responses you have had in this visit?
A: I had an excellent meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, with the Emir, with the President here and the Crown Prince. I believe there is a shared understanding that what is happening in the last few years is that we are building a global economy where you can trade right across the world, where there are financial flows that are global, there is a global sourcing of the goods you buy, but we have still to built the architecture to make that global economy work. I believe the countries I visited can play a large part in helping to make that happen.
Q: There is a lot of interest in the proposal of reforming the global financial system and the Gulf States taking a seat at the decision-making table. Do you think this is really something viable, is it something you support and that we can see in the near future?
A: Yes, when we have the meeting of the leaders in Washington (November 15), the King of Saudi Arabia will be present with his finance minister Mr. Al Assaf. I think there is a growing recognition that the institutions of the world have to reflect the changes that have taken place in the world. When you talk about the world economy you cannot just sit down with the old what was called G-7 and G-8, because there are many countries now that have a prominent role in the world economy that have to sit at the table when you are having discussions about the future.
Q: There is concern in the region about how sovereign wealth funds were seen in the West, especially in the United States for example the case with Dubai Ports Authority. Do you think that has changed?
A: We in Britain were always favourable to investment by sovereign wealth funds, so I was very specific in welcoming sovereign wealth funds to invest in our country and many have. I think the attitude of some of the countries to sovereign wealth funds has been changing over time. I think they are more willing to benefit from the investment they can make but we have certainly one of the first to welcome that investment and we continue to do so.
Q: Regarding global leadership in the current crisis, there is a lot of fear that the United States is preoccupied with the elections and will be caught up in the next few months with the administration transition process. What role can you play in this global leadership?
A: I think it’s important that all continents feel that they are involved. One of the important things about this visit is for me to stress that the Gulf States have a very important role to play. I talked yesterday with President Dimitry Medvedev in Russia and I continue to talk to our friends and fellow participants in the global financial architecture in every continent of the world. I do think we have to recognise that China and Asia have a big role to play and that we must recognise at all times that there are problems in Africa that we must play a part in solving.
And so the benefits of people talking and discussing over the next few weeks are that we could stabilise the banking system more effectively, we could help the world economy grow a little faster than it is going to grow at the moment, we could bring about a world trade agreement which I hope would happen and resist protection which would be damaging for the world and of course I hope that America, Europe and other countries working together can help bring about a Middle East peace settlement as well.
Q: Moving on to the issue of terrorism, what further cooperation can there be between Britain and the Gulf on this matter. You visited a rehabilitation centre for those linked to terror groups in Saudi Arabia, what did you find that you can learn from there?
A: That the indoctrination of extremist groups has got to be fought at all levels and that there is a cultural, political and religious discussion to take place and we have got to recognise that in the longer terms we have to win people’s hearts and minds, we have got to win their enthusiastic support for the values we represent. If we can make global change, globalisation itself, inclusive and sustainable then I believe we can win from extremist groups those people who think that the only solution is through violence. We really must reject violence, reject extremism and we must convince young people that there are opportunities in this global society that can benefit them, but we must show that we are creating a more inclusive society.
Q: And your visit to the rehabilitation centre in Saudi Arabia, was that your initiative?
A: Yes, I think cooperation against terrorism is very very important. I think that there are perversions of great faiths that by debate and dialogue you can both discuss and counter-act and I did see men who had been in Guantanamo Bay who now deject extremist ideology and play a part in society.
Q: On Iraq, do you think there will be a security pact between Iraq and Britain before the end of the year?
A: Yes I think so and I think it’s important that we recognise that the UN mandate expires at the end of the year and we are making progress on this issue.
Q: You announced that there will be a change in mission in Iraq next year, however the troops have already moved to a training role and no longer really in a combat role on a day-to-day basis. So what will be the change in mission – what do you envision?
A: Well the task that we have got to undertake in Basra and I am very proud of the cooperation between our very professional British forces and the developing Iraqi forces and police is first of all, as you say, is training. We have to train large numbers of forces and we are doing that now – so that is a continuing task. We have to contribute to the economic development in Basra and we are doing that now. We are working with the Iraqi business leaders and trying to give people a bigger stake in the future of Basra and the surrounding area. And we have to complete the local government elections which are coming obviously in Basra. We have to make sure these things are done and done successfully. That’s what we are talking to Prime Minister Maliki about.
Q: Another important issue is the Middle East peace process. It was hoped that we would have a Palestinian state before the end of the year but this has not come to fruition, what can be expected for now – especially with the United States going through this administration transition.
A: I think you are absolutely right; this is the important issue in the region that must be solved. I think people more and more understand what sort of settlement can happen, in other words people understand what are the building blocks of a peace agreement between the different groups. What we have to do is try to create the environment in which that agreement can happen. And I think there is political uncertainty of course in both Israel and obviously the American elections and the financial difficulties of the Palestinian Authority. All these things contribute to the difficulty of reaching this final agreement but I do think people understand what needs to be done and I think there is a build up of momentum behind it. I will certainly play my part and Britain will play its part in trying to make it happen.
Q: Turning to the US, how historic are the changes we are seeing in the USA and the candidates that have emerged? How do you view the United States in this light?
A: I think people will always look to the United States for its role in the leadership of so many different things. I believe that in the last few months President Bush has taken a leadership role in organising this meeting on November 15th but I believe that American engagement will be even more necessary as we face the challenges ahead, whether it be stabilising the international financial system or creating jobs and growth around the world or bringing about a trade deal to stop protectionism or the peace problems that exist, including the Middle East. I think America and Europe will work more closely together to deal with these issues as the challenges become apparent. I think America has a very big role in the future and it’s not for me to say who is to be the president, it’s for the American people to make this decision but we look forward to working with the new president.