Riyad/Vienna, 8 February 2013 Press release

APA: Spindelegger visits Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

The Austrian Vice Chancellor also plans to raise differences in human rights questions – the economy is the prime issue on the agenda in Abu Dhabi

Riyadh/Vienna, 8 February 2013 – Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger (People’s Party) travels to Saudi Arabia on Monday. Austria has a close link to the country on the Persian Gulf above all through the International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, which was opened at the end of November 2012 and is financed by Saudi Arabia.

Spindelegger is to meet Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and his ministerial counterpart Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday, who was present in person at the opening of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in November. The Vice-Chancellor said "differences in the area of human rights" are also to be discussed.

Spindelegger will travel on to the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday. In Abu Dhabi a meeting with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Sayed al-Nahyan is planned among other scheduled engagements. In addition to extensive discussions on the security issue in the Middle East, bilateral economic issues will also be on the agenda. "There are at present some 215 branches of Austrian companies and 316 local representations in the United Arab Emirates", Spindelegger said. Moreover 1,700 Austrians currently live and work in the Emirates.

A visit to Qatar, where among other events a television interview with the Al Jazeera channel was planned, had to be cancelled due to conflicting schedules.

 “The Gulf States are confronted with the direct effects of the international crisis areas Syria and Iran and also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the region is a focal partner of the West in issues such as the fight against terrorism and energy supply security", Spindelegger said on his departure.

A lively exchange of official visits is maintained between Austria and Saudi Arabia. The late Austrian President Thomas Klestil visited Saudi Arabia in 2001, his successor President Heinz Fischer travelled to the Persian Gulf in 2006. Crown Prince Abdullah, who has since succeeded to the throne, visited Austria in 2004.

Christians are strictly prohibited from any form of religious activity in Saudi Arabia. Crosses and other Christian symbols must not be shown in public, religious books may not be imported. According to the Wahhabi state doctrine of the ruling family all other forms of religion are prohibited on the Arabian Peninsula, the homeland of the Prophet, in deference to the Islamic holy places there.

(ends) ade/tsc

APA0530    2013-02-08/16:51