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ABU DHABI // The former prime minister of Spain told trainee diplomats that dialogue was the best weapon in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was the first former head of state to guest lecture at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in the capital.
He said the creation of the academy was one example of the commitment the UAE had shown towards improving its international relations.
“It is important to consider public diplomacy as the centre of foreign policymaking process and a critical element in establishing a long-term relationship with foreign audiences," he said.
Mr Zapatero became prime minister of Spain in April 2004, after the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.
He said his subsequent decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq led US president George W Bush to suspend direct communication with him for more than four years.
He told the students that standing by one’s beliefs was essential in their chosen career.
“The most important aspect in diplomacy is to have passion in what you believe in," he said.
Resolution of the conflicts and the realisation of peace in the region lay in the hands of diplomats, Mr Zapatero said.
“Cooperation and dialogue among the Arab and Muslim countries is the solution to the Middle East," he said.
Addressing Mr Zapatero in fluent Spanish Shahad Al Hammadi, 29, a Zayed University graduate and one of 58 first-year students at the academy, said the lecture provided invaluable insight.
“We are looking for a different angle to tackle international challenges in this region, and given Mr Zapatero’s experience in promoting cultural diplomacy, we get to learn it first hand."
Bernardino Leon, academy director general, said it was not difficult to attract high-profile speakers from the field of diplomacy to lecture at the academy.
“We have a unique model here with the UAE being the first Arab country to propose such a project. People are genuinely intrigued in the academy," he said.
Its first speaker was Jeffery Sachs, a leading economist and special adviser to the United Nations, while future speakers will include Chuck Hagel, the former US secretary of defence, and Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League.