India, Arab world boosts ties, sign pact (Lead)

December 2nd, 2008 - 8:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) India and the Arab world, home to nearly five-million-strong Indian diaspora, Tuesday took a defining step to cement their friendly ties by setting up a cooperation forum and agreed to intensify their cooperation in combating terrorism.External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the 22-nation League of Arab States, signed an accord on setting up an India-Arab Cooperation Forum. The ambassadors from Arab countries were present at the ceremony.

“We believe this forum will emerge as a mechanism to strengthen and diversify our relations in various fields. including culture, trade, energy and human resources,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee and Moussa also inaugurated a week-long cultural festival, which includes a handicrafts exhibition and a film festival besides performances of artists from the Arab world.

The Arab League reiterates its condemnation of the Nov 26 terror strikes in Mumbai, Moussa said after holding talks with Mukherjee. Moussa also pledged to India cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Moussa underlined both India and the nations of the Arab League should increase cooperation, as they had “similar aspirations”.

“India and the Arab world face common challenges and strive for similar goals, and this underpins our cooperation in international fora,” Mukherjee said at a function earlier in the day.

Reiterating India’s support for the Palestinian cause, Mukherjee, however, rued “slow progress in the Middle East peace process”.

“Peace and stability in the region are of paramount importance to us. We are concerned about lack of progress in the peace process,” Mukherjee said.

Terming the Arab peace initiative as a “significant move”, Mukherjee said: “We feel that the (US-sponsored) Annapolis process needs to be taken forward.”

The Arab world is crucial for India’s energy security as over 70 percent of oil supplies come from the energy-rich Gulf states.

Expressing New Delhi’s strong concerns over Israel’s months-long blockade of Gaza strip, Mukherjee said there could be “no justification for the denial of essential supplies, including food and fuel, to the civilian population” in the territory.

“We remain concerned with the isolation of Gaza and the recent upsurge of violence there. We also remain concerned at the adverse effects of the closure of access points into the strip on the prevailing humanitarian situation,” Mukherjee said at the inauguration of a cultural event held to celebrate the relations between India and the Arab world.

“We have also called for an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and for an early and significant easing of restrictions on the free movement of persons and goods within Palestine,” he said.

Israel sealed off its crossings with Gaza - the impoverished territory’s main gateway for food and humanitarian aid - as well as its maritime borders after the Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007.

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