Syria wants India in UN Security Council: al-Assad (Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) Extending his support to India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Thursday sought an Indian role in the Middle East peace process because it has “credibility” with all parties. “We want India to play a role in the Middle East peace process because it has credibility,” President al-Assad told reporters during an hour-long interactive session at the Oberoi Hotel here Thursday. He is on a five-day state visit to India.

“India has good relations with both the US and Israel and anyone who wants to play a role has to have that credibility. India has that credibility because of its traditional support for the Arab cause as well as good relations with Israel,” he added.

Syria, which is now in the chair of the Arab League, strongly supports New Delhi’s candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC), al-Assad said, adding that the stature provided by such a position would also help India play a big role in the Middle East peace process.

“I have already told President Pratibha Patil last night about Syria’s support to India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UNSC,” the Syrian president said.

President al-Assad, who arrived Tuesday, had wide-ranging discussions with the Indian leadership in the past two days, including Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

His father, late Syrian president Hafez Assad had come to India on a bilateral visit in 1978.

“This visit of mine was long overdue and I am glad to be here. India has traditionally been supportive of the Arab cause,” he said.

But he acknowledged that it was a “new, rising India” that he was dealing with and the engagement was taking place when “dramatic changes” over Palestine and Lebanon were taking place in the Middle East.

“It could not only affect our region but the whole world,” he said, referring to the Middle East.

He said he had meaningful discussion with the prime minister and other Indian leaders on how the two sides could take forward their relations both in the political as well as in the economic field.

He said developments in the Middle East and terrorism were two areas where he and the prime minister had focussed a lot during their talks Wednesday. He said both countries are secular and both have been victims of terrorist attacks for years and have been surrounded by conflicts. “We need to adopt a common approach to combat terrorism effectively.”

The Syrian president was supportive of direct negotiation between India and Pakistan and repeated his country’s stand on Kashmir saying it was “a bilateral issue”.

Pointing out that trade between the two sides was only $500 million, he said it was not reflective of the strong ties between the two sides. “We have to see how we can push this forward.” He invited Indian companies to set up joint ventures with Syrian enterprises in the field of information technology, electricity and oil.

Referring to India’s growing ties with Israel, President al-Assad said “India did not allow its relation with one country to be improved at the expense of another, including Syria”. He added: “India has always been supportive of the Arab causes.”

He argued that since India had good relations with Israel as well as the Arab world, it could use its influence over the Israelis to ensure that they remain seriously committed to the peace process.

Referring to the Turkey initiated indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, he said: “Today what Turkey is doing, tomorrow some other country, that was acceptable to both sides, could also do.”

The Syrian president and other members of his delegation will leave for Agra before proceeding to Bangalore for the last leg of their India tour. He leaves June 21.

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