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Israel eyes telecoms and agriculture sectors

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Israeli ambassador to Thailand, Yael Rubinstein. 

FOCUS ON INVESTMENT - ISRAEL

In this exclusive interview with the Post, Business Editor George McLeod meets with Israel's ambassador to Thailand to discuss her country's plans to build business and political links with Cambodia.

Why is Israel interested in Cambodia?

We see Cambodia as a very interesting market, and we want to explore a number of avenues for cooperation, especially agriculture and telecommunications.  Israel is a world leader in agriculture and we need to share our know-how....  In terms of agriculture, there are two areas of cooperation - the first is water management. As you know, Israel is a desert country, but when people come to Israel, they see green fields. The reason is that we have good technology. The second is we want to work on desalinisation.

Cambodia has seen a lot of interest from other Middle Eastern countries  including Qatar, Kuwait and Iran. Is this geopolitical competition?

No, [Cambodia] is a very interesting market, and I think it is no surprise that other countries are interested. I have no doubt that our products in telecommunications and agriculture are the best, so I have no doubt we will be more convincing for the Cambodian government.

But I am welcoming any competition from any other country, whether we have diplomatic relations with them or not.

But isn't the Israeli agriculture sector losing money and dependent on government subsidies?

That used to be the case - at first, the government had to subsidise, but in the last decades, most companies have been privatised....

Of course, the government is supporting agriculture though, but not financially.

  My first aim is to encourage a higher-level delegation led by [Cambodian] ministers to visit israel.

What is the government's role in expanding ties?

Of course, the Israeli government is supporting our companies ... but as Israeli ambassador, my job is to open doors. That means meeting ministers and supporting the private sector. After I open the door, it is up to private companies.

Israeli telecoms and IT companies are also leaders in security and surveillance. Are you in talks with the government over providing surveillance equipment?

This isn't something we have discussed. Of course, if the Cambodians raised this, we would be able to discuss it.

Your new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is from the far right and seen as a hardliner - will this make it difficult to improve relations with Asia?

I think Mr Lieberman is an impressive person and it will be very interesting to meet with his colleagues ... I want to remind you that [Ariel] Sharon was also seen as hardline, but he pulled out of Lebanon and Gaza. So the term hardliner is a question of views, but I am positive the Netanyahu government will be very forthcoming.

In the UN, Cambodia has voted against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Do you have any views on that?

Our position is for a two-state solution and a Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel, so we are in favour of a two-state solution. We have no political dispute with Cambodia.

What developments can we expect in Israel-Cambodia relations for 2009?

My first aim is to encourage a higher-level delegation led by ministers to visit Israel, and we want the Cambodian foreign minister to come to Cambodia. We want more political dialogue. We need to upgrade relations with Cambodia.

Will Israel set up an embassy?

That is possible, but it depends on the budget.

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