India a major player on global stage: Syrian president (Roundup)

June 18th, 2008 - 9:46 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Syria Wednesday sought India’s participation to resolve the Middle East crisis and invited Indian companies and investors to help rebuild its infrastructure to deepen economic cooperation between the two countries when President Bashar al-Assad met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here. Describing India as “one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a major player on the global stage”, the Syrian president set the tone of his deep engagement with the Indian political and business leaders.

“The situation in West Asia figured prominently in discussions,” a foreign ministry statement released in the evening said.

“In this regard, noting recent developments, the two sides agreed to stay in close consultations on the next steps in the peace process.”

The Syrian president also sought India’s participation to help resolve the Palestinian issue and other crises in the region.

“Acknowledging India’s good relations with the Arab world and its support to the Palestinian and other Arab causes, President Bashar al-Assad sought India’s role in the Middle East,” a senior Indian official, who was part of the talks, told IANS.

Manmohan Singh, in turn, talked about how crucial the Middle East and the neighbouring region was to India with more than five million Indians living there. The region is also the country’s main energy source and supply route, the official added.

“The talks between the two leaders were very good, of high quality and very serious,” was how the official described the dialogue.

They discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations with special emphasis on the need to strengthen economic and trade ties. The Iraq conflict and the Turkey-initiated peace talks between Syria and Israel were also discussed.

“Both leaders agreed that terrorism born out of extremism was a cause for concern that needs to be combated effectively,” the official said.

India and Syria signed three economic agreements after the talks - for avoidance of double taxation, bilateral investment and a work plan for cooperation in agriculture and allied sectors.

Al-Assad, the first Syrian head of state to visit India after a gap of 30 years, arrived here Tuesday evening, accompanied by his wife Asma, four senior ministers and a host of other officials.

During the day, he also met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, ruling Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani.

President Pratibha Patil hosted a banquet in honour of the Syrian president and his delegation at the Rashtrapati Bhawan Wednesday night.

Addressing a meeting of Indian business leaders here, he said: “I invite you to explore opportunities for joint ventures and other collaboration in major areas including infrastructure development, energy production, mineral processing, IT education and training opportunities.”

President al-Assad said Syria’s economic growth had risen from less than one percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in 2007.

He said the indirect peace talks that had begun between Syria and Israel had made him optimistic that the situation in the region might improve further.

“Only peace and stability will ensure sustainable development and long-term prosperity for our region and the world,” he said.

The Syrian president made no bones about how India with its vibrant democracy and pluralistic society has been an inspiration to his country and the others in the Arab world.

“It (India) has created an environment full of opportunities where its people can compete and prosper within a framework of stability and security,” he added.

Making a forceful appeal for “a wider and deeper engagement” between the countries, President al-Assad said: “I have no doubt that with this shared spirit, today’s meeting will open new doors for all your companies and ours to find existing opportunities to grow and prosper.”

The Syrian president and the delegation will go to see the Taj Mahal in Agra Thursday before flying to Bangalore where he will spend two days visiting important IT firms and interacting with Indian professionals.

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