Two “pull asides” with premiers of Italy, Norway scheduled well in advance

Large multilateral events like the Nuclear Security Summit — set to take place here on March 26 and 27 — usually provide an occasion for India to squeeze in brief meetings with major diplomatic players like the U.S., China and Pakistan.

But in a reflection of the complex nature of diplomacy in an ever-shrinking world, the only two “pull asides” for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that have been scheduled well in advance are with the Prime Ministers of Italy and Norway.

India's relations with both European nations have been overwhelmed recently by high-profile “custody” battles that are still far from resolution.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti will raise the issue of the two marines from his country arrested in Kerala after they opened fire and killed two unarmed fishermen off the Indian coast last month. The marines were part of a military contingent on board an Italian tanker, the Enrica Lexie, and Rome insists they be handed over for prosecution under Italian law as the incident occurred in international waters. India says it is within its rights to try the two men in its national courts.

In the case of Norway, Dr. Singh is likely to raise with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg the case of two Indian toddlers placed into foster care by the Norwegian Child Welfare Service last year. The CWS says the parents are incapable of bringing them up — a claim the couple and a host of child experts have hotly disputed — and, if it has its way, the children will remain in foster care till they turn 18.

There is on the table a legally binding document signed by the parents — and notarised by an Indian consular official — agreeing to the transfer of custody of their children to the father's brother. The CWS said earlier this week that it did not have faith in the validity and enforceablity of this agreement. But perhaps the Indian and Norwegian Prime Ministers could find a way to move this settlement forward so that the children can come back to India and be properly cared for by their uncle.

Asked about the significance of these Italian and Norwegian meetings, an Indian official said it was important that these two issues not be allowed to dominate the bilateral agenda.

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