Syria for India’s role in resolving West Asian crisis (Lead)

June 17th, 2008 - 8:38 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Syria, the chairman of the six-nation Arab League, has sought India’s help to resolve the Palestinian issue and bring durable peace in the strife-torn Middle East region. “India has been an example and inspiration for most countries in the Arab world. We want it to play a much bigger role in West Asia,” Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian minister for expatriates, told IANS here Monday, ahead of President Bashar al-Assad’s five-day visit to the country beginning Tuesday.

Al-Assad will hold wide-ranging talks with the Indian leadership for strengthening bilateral ties and also seek its support and participation to resolve many of the longstanding problems in the region, particularly the Palestinian cause.

He will be the first Syrian president to come to India on a state visit after 30 years. His father, late president Hafez Assad, had come to the country in 1978.

In the intervening period, a number of visits have taken place between the two countries, including two prime ministerial visits from India, one by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and the other by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003.

“We are aware of the growing ties between India and Israel, particularly in the military and strategic areas. But we are not worried about that,” the Syrian minister said. She argued that as long as India could “strike a balance” between its ties with Israel and the Arab world there was no cause for concern.

“We don’t mind if India wants to have good relations with Israel. But it should not be an excuse to remain silent on Israeli atrocities and it should not lead to dilution of India’s traditional support for the Arab rights and their cause,” she added.

Asked why Syria took so long for a state visit by its president to India, Shaaban said: “The problems in the West Asian region, many of which were brought there from outside, had kept the Syrian president occupied.”

She pointed out that the Syrian president was coming to India at a time when Syria has the chair of the Arab League.

“We want India to play a much bigger role in West Asia to resolve the crises there. India can use its strong ties with Israel to convince the leadership to stop the genocide of the Palestinian people, return Golan Heights it captured to Syria and take serious steps to bring durable peace in the region.”

“The Syrian President is coming here to re-charge the strong and traditional ties between the two countries,” she added.

President al-Assad, will be accompanied by his wife Asma al-Assad, and a high-level delegation that include Foreign Minister Walid al-Moulem, Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Husni Lufti and Minister of Telecommunication and Technology Erad Saboumi.

In New Delhi, he will meet senior leaders of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

President Pratibha Patil will host a banquet for her Syrian guest and President al-Assad will also have a separate meeting with Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani. He will also meet Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.

During his visit, the two sides are likely to focus on areas of cooperation in the field of IT, biotechnology, energy, agriculture and investment in each other’s country.

An agreement on avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of agriculture will be signed between the two countries.

The Syrian president will also visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Bangalore where he will visit the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) and IT and biotechnology facilities.

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