PM Dr. Ralph Gonsalves holds discussions with His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar. (Photo: SVG UN Mission)

ST. VINCENT: Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves discussed with officials in Qatar and Syria assistance with the international airport at Argyle, scholarships, trade missions and pharmaceuticals during a one-week visit to the Middle East.

Gonsalves was accompanied by two Vincentians with Middle Eastern roots: Dr. Barry Assi, a Syrian-born Vincentian doctor, and Toni Sassine, a Vincentian businessman who is originally from Lebanon.

The Vincentian delegation also included Gonsalves’ wife, Eloise Gonsalves; Dr. Rudolph Matthias, Chairman of the International Airport Development Company; and Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves, Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to the United Nations.

PM Gonsalves was invited to visit Qatar less than three weeks after he met Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, during the United Nations General Debate in New York.

The Emir welcomed Gonsalves to Qatar and the two leaders held further discussions on development cooperation and investment in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, according to a release from the SVG UN Mission. (Go to the homepage to subscribe to I Witness-News)

The Emir indicated that Qatar is interested in providing assistance to the Argyle International Airport, and investing in both the airport and other tourism projects in SVG.

He also expressed his desire for Vincentian students to study in Qatar on scholarships, and invited Gonsalves to tour Education City – a spectacular multi-campus development that is home to the largest collection of American Universities in the Middle East.

Members of the Vincentian delegation also met with important technical officials in Qatar.

Ambassador Gonsalves and Dr. Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, Qatar’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, discussed ways in which the two countries could enhance their bilateral cooperation. (More photos here)

Additionally, Dr. Matthias and Ambassador Gonsalves held in-depth discussions with Akbar Al-Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways; and Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al-Noaimi, the Chairman of Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). A delegation led by CAA officials will visit Saint Vincent and the Grenadines before the end of the year.

The Emir also committed to making an official visit to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in early 2011.

Visit to the Syrian Arab Republic

PM Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his delegation pose with the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad (From Left): Toni Sassine, Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, President Bashar al-Assad, Dr. Barry Assi, Dr. Rudolph Matthias. (Photo: SVG UN Mission)

In Syria, PM Gonsalves met with the President, Prime Minister, and ministers of information, foreign affairs, transport, higher education, health and economy and trade.

The Prime Minister also visited some of the country’s ancient religious sites. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

PM Gonsalves and his delegation met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, who said he viewed SVG as an important part of his nation’s renewed outreach to Latin America and the Caribbean.

President al-Assad stressed that, while his country is not very wealthy, he was confident that Syria could find creative ways to partner with SVG on the Argyle International Airport, education, health, trade and tourism.

PM Gonsalves and his delegation engaged the various ministers whose areas of responsibility were covered in the discussions with President Bashar al-Assad.

PM Gonsalves and Dr. Matthias discussed the Argyle International Airport and other infrastructural projects with Dr. Yaroub Bader, Minister of Transport of Syria.

Similarly, Dr. Ghiath Barakat, Minister of Higher Education of Syria, pledged to offer scholarships in Arabic, mathematics and the sciences to Vincentian students in the next academic year.

Lamia Assi, the Minister of Economy and Trade, asked PM Gonsalves to send a Vincentian trade and investment delegation to Syria as soon as possible, to explore avenues and opportunities for Syrian investment in tourism and commerce.

The Vincentian delegation also met with Dr. Reda Siad, Syria’s Minister of Health.

PM Gonsalves discussed exchanges of doctors and nurses with Dr. Siad. Dr. Barry Assi, a Syrian-Vincentian who completed his medical training in Syria, also discussed procuring pharmaceuticals and medical supplies from Syria on behalf of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Dr. Assi had previously held similar discussions with large providers in Qatar.

The Syrian Ministry of Health provided the Vincentian delegation with a large number of sample medical products that may be of interest to OECS countries.

PM Gonsalves and his delegation also visited a number of ancient religious sites in Syria.

The PM visited and prayed at the Church of Saint Thecla and the Chapel of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus in Maaloula, Syria, which was build in the fourth century AD, and is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world.

Prime Minister Gonsalves also visited Convent of Our Lady in Saidnaya, Syria. The Convent, completed in 547AD, is also one of the oldest Christian convents in the world.

The PM also toured the Ummayad Mosque, which is one of the largest and oldest mosques still in operation. The Mosque, which is the fourth-holiest site in Islam, was once visited by Pope John Paul II. It was the first mosque ever visited by a Pope.