"Oman playing a key role in bridging West-Iran divide"
Interview granted by Mr. Roland Dubertrand, Ambassador of France in Oman, on the occasion of 14 July.
He highlights the progress of the Omani-French bilateral relationship and pays tribute to the role played by the Sultanate of Oman for the rapprochement between the West and Iran, which resulted in the agreement of 14 July on the nuclear issue.
"We want to develop and diversify the French economic presence and we want Omani exchanges with France and more Omani investments"
Roland Dubertrand, Ambassador of France to Oman.
Photo– OK Mohammed Ali
"Oman has a special role holding mediation for rapprochement for the countries having problems"
The increasing signification of the bilateral relationship will be highlighted by a plannet visit to Oman by French President François Hollande later this year or in early 2016.
by SARAH MACDONALD
Times of Oman - July 14, 2015.
Muscat : An upcoming visit by French President François Hollande is a sign of the growing importance of France’s relationship with Oman, a country marked by peace and stability in a conflict-ridden region, says Roland Dubertrand, Ambassador of France to Oman.
France, which today celebrates its 226th Bastille Day to mark its shift from a monarchy to a republic in 1789, has been increasing ties with Oman in a number of areas, from politics to trade to culture. In an exclusive interview with Times of Oman, Dubertrand spoke the ongoing developments between the two countries.
“Oman is a stable and important country and we want to have more strategic cooperation with the Sultanate,” Dubertrand said.
The increasing significance of the bilateral relationship will be highlighted by a planned visit to Oman by French President François Hollande, who has accepted an official invitation to the Sultanate and will come later this year or in early 2016, the ambassador said.
The French ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs will come to Oman, too, while Omani ministers will be invited to France over the next year, all with the aim of strengthening political dialogue.
“The high-level visits are important and the most important are the visits of the head of state. It’s not only protocol, because you can discuss the political issues and the very strategic issues for the two countries. You make progress by this type of visit,” Dubertrand said.
In the past few years Oman has become a key player in region, helping bridge divides between Iran and the west. This is important to France, which a main participant in the nuclear talks with Iran. Oman also has a valuable job to play regarding Yemen, the ambassador explained.
“Oman has a special role for holding mediation for rapprochement for the countries having problems,” he said.
Growing political ties between France and Oman are being complemented by robust trade, culture and tourism, Dubertrand added.
Bilateral trade reached €600 million (OMR 258.8 million) and French investment in Oman is approximate €1 billion (OMR 431.5). France is Oman’s third largest provider of arms, and there are French companies such as Total, Veolia, and Renault that have been operating for a long time in Oman.
“We want to develop and diversify the French economic presence and we want Omani exchanges with France and more Omani investments,” the ambassador noted.
There are opportunities in France for Omani investors, especially around Paris which is currently undergoing major projects to improve its services and infrastructure. While traditionally Omanis invested in French real estate, Dubertrand said now is the time to expand investments to sectors such as transportation, infrastructure, communication, and green economy businesses.
To facilitate trade relations between the countries the Omani-French Business Association, with Omani businesswoman Hind Bahwan as president, was established earlier this year. Dubertrand said it would allow for face-to-face interaction between businesspeople and entrepreneurs, acting as an “institutional umbrella for exchanges.”
Cultural ties between Oman and France have been steadily increasing, too, the ambassador said. Pilot programs for French language classes have been introduced in a number of government schools, and more Omanis are studying French at the French-Omani Centre.
Dubertrand hopes more French language classes in Oman will encourage more students to choose France as a place for post-secondary education.
“If it works it will expand to other schools in the public system. I hope it will work and we try to support it strongly through the CFO and the cultural section of the embassy. I think it will be a very good thing for the country to have the pupils have a second foreign language in the secondary school,” said Dubertrand.
Very few Omanis currently study in France, but Dubertrand hopes to see this change. There are some scholarships available from the embassy and the embassy is in talks with the Ministry of Higher Education to have France included in the countries to which government scholarships are provided. Students can study in English but French helps for life in France, Dubertrand said.
“We want to try to attract, in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education, much more Omani students into our country. We will work on that,” he noted.
For Dubertrand a highlight of the cultural ties was the July 2014 agreement by the two governments to share the costs of renovating Bait Fransa Omani French Museum, which was the French consulate in 1894.
The museum needs to be refurbished and the collection, which highlights French-Omani history, will be presented in a more contemporary way. Studies are now underway for the renovations which will include display areas, a library and a cafe.
“The idea is to have a more modern museum attracting more people and being a true space of animation. You have many people visiting Old Muscat and this could be an important spot on the visit,” Dubertrand said, adding that he hoped this would encourage more people to go to the museum.
While not many Omanis are traveling to France to study, more and more are heading there for tourism. In 2013 the French embassy issued 4,500 visas, a number that doubled to 9,000 in 2014. This year the number will likely rise again, Dubertrand said.
Approximately two thirds of the visas are for Omani nationals, while the remainder are for expats who live in Oman.
“Omanis visiting France has grown quite drastically. There is more interest by the Omani people to travel to France be it for tourism, or for business. We want really to attract more Omani tourists to our country, not only to Paris and Euro-Disney, but to other destinations,” said Dubertrand.
He says France is rich in nature and heritage which should also be explored, such as the French Alps, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, the Pyrenees in the southwest, Brittany in the northwest, and Alsace in the east.
“It’s really great diversity. It’s natural that when you have your first visit to France you visit Paris...but after that if you want to appreciate the natural beauties of the country and the gastronomy and the differences of the regions from north, south, east to west, I think you have to try to organise your own trips to different regions,” Dubertrand said, adding that he would also recommend the region where he grew up, in the Pyrenees Mountains in the southwest.
Dubertrand has been in Oman for a year now, and as he prepares to host his first Bastille Day as ambassador he happily admits that all the positive things he’d been told about the Sultanate prior to coming here proved to be true. He also discovered the strong identity of the people and the history, which he has been exploring through the country’s many forts and castles.
“Of course the country is beautiful but it’s not only that. The country is original with a very original and rich history, and the people are smart, elegant and welcoming,” he said.