H E Renaud Salins said that under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the sultanate has been an active partner in peace across the region, which is similar to what France stands for. “Our relationship with Oman is not only very old, but there is a tremendous quality aspect to it as well, which has to do with the objectives of our foreign policy.”
“I think there are very few countries in the Middle East that have the ability to talk to everyone, keeping contact with all kinds of people, not only governments... and this is very precious to us,” said H E Salins.
“France is also a partner in seeking peace in the region. As you know, France is one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and this gives us a responsibility, which other nations don’t have, to ensure that all nations have stability around the planet. And we take this role, responsibility very seriously.”
“Therefore, we’re always seeking partners who can help us. Oman is an important partner and on many regional issues such as the Yemen crisis, Iran crisis, we tend to have a similar position to Oman’s position.”
H E Salins, who came to Oman in September 2017, added, “Even if an ambassador is new and doesn’t know many people in the beginning, he soon realises that he’s welcome as a friend and a partner by his Omani counterparts here in Muscat.”
The French Ambassador spoke to Muscat Daily ahead of the French National Day on July 14.
“There is a historical aspect to this relationship with two old nations knowing each other for a long time. Having started contacts in the 17th century, we established an official relationship by the end of the 18th century, which continued to develop through the 19th century. We were one of the first nations to open a permanent consular mission in Muscat at the end of the 19th century,” he said.
The Ambassador said, “We have had a common maritime history because some of the French positions in the Indian Ocean were very close to Zanzibar and different places Oman used to rule in eastern Africa... so we know each other very well.”
On trade relations, H E Salins said that though the bilateral trade between the two countries is very high, France ranks 6th among the different foreign investors in the sultanate.
“We have about 40 big French companies with their offices here and our companies employ about 1.5 per cent of the total workforce in Oman.”
H E Salins expressed his happiness in having the Barka II Power and Desalination Plant completed with GDF Suez of France, a major partner in the execution of the project.
“This is going to be the second largest desalination plant in the entire peninsula.” He added, “About two months ago, I was present at the signing ceremony for a desalination project in Salalah, which will be operated by another French company.”
Oil and gas sector
In the oil and gas sector, Total has signed a memorandum of understanding in May, which will increase dramatically the presence of Total in Oman.
“This is about the development of a new gas field. Total will be part of the development of a plant in Sohar. And this plant will become the first gasoline station in the Indian Ocean for clean fuel for ships. This is the first station of its nature between Singapore and Rotterdam.”
Total and Shell as operators will develop several natural gas discoveries located in the Greater Barik area on onshore Block 6 with respective shares of 25 per cent and 75 per cent.
According to Total, initial gas production is expected to be around 500MMcf/d and there is potential to reach 1bcf/d at a later stage.
The Ambassador was particularly happy about the involvement of several French companies in the construction and running of the new Muscat International Airport.
“For the past one year, I am trying to focus extensively on economic issues. I believe that there is a possibility for further progress in our relationship.”
He highlighted events such as French Week, which was organised by the Embassy in March focusing on food and hospitality sectors. “We reached out to about 7000 people through many restaurants, hotels and companies involved in catering businesses.”
Also in April, His Excellency Yahya al Jabri, the Minister for Special Economic Zone Authority Duqm, visited France with a big delegation and presented an update on the Duqm project. “I hope this will bring more French companies to Oman and especially to Duqm,” said H E Salins.
Culture and education
“During the past few years, we have been running programmes with the Ministries of Health and Higher Education to foster studies in France. In the health sector, for the past seven years, we are training surgeons in France. The first batch of surgeons are coming back now and this means in ten years we are going to have 50-60 surgeons trained in France,” announced H E Salins.
However, he said that even though France is the fourth destination in the world for studies, so far not too many Omanis were going to France. “It may be because of the language barrier or a cultural barrier.”
He said that to reverse this, France has launched a programme of scholarship for business, engineering and architecture students with the Ministry of Education. “This is at the initial stage as only last year we’ve sent the first batch of students to France.”
“The results are impressive and the Ministry of Higher Education told us to increase the number of students.”
H E Salins added that several cooperation agreements have been signed in the recent months between the universities in France and Oman for exchange programmes.
“I have a special interest in French language programme. French is one of the working languages of the United Nations and spoken in five continents by 221mn people. I have a special interest in improving French language learning in Oman.”
The French Ambassador took pride in the major involvement of French researchers in the field of archaeology. Recently Qalhat has been listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
“In fact, the exploration of the site had been conducted by a French archaeology team for ten years, before the recognition came. This is a very important development not only for the history of Oman but also that the heritage of Oman has been acknowledged worldwide. We are proud to have contributed to this development.”