Syria appreciative of Indian stand on Arab causes, return of Golan Heights

India and Syria should take their historic ties to a new level, leveraging their growing importance in the world to each other’s advantage, particularly in the economic sphere: this was the message that both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and visiting Indian President Pratibha Patil emphasised at a joint press conference at the impressive Kasra Sha’ab, the People’s Palace, in the historic city of Damascus on a bright and crisp Saturday morning.

Earlier, when President Patil arrived to a red carpet welcome and a guard of honour at the Kasra Sha’ab, — reserved for ceremonial occasions — she was received by President Assad and the immaculately groomed London-born First Lady Asma al-Assad. A military band, spent the hour before the Indian President arrived at the Palace, practicing and re-practicing the Indian National Anthem.

Interestingly, President Assad devoted close to half his statement to the press to the political element in the talks between the two leaders, focusing on bringing peace to West Asia, even though India can play, at best, a modest role as a mediator between Israel and the Arab world in the region. Both leaders, he said, reiterated their condemnation of all forms of terrorism in all forms: on the second anniversary of 26/11 (Friday), he had said Syria renewed its support to India in fighting terrorism. He also reiterated Syria’s support to India’s efforts to secure a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and stressed the importance of reforming the U.N. so that it becomes “more democratic, representative and efficient”.

He also said Syria supported the recent statement made by the Foreign Ministers of India, China and Russia on the right of Iran and all other countries to possess nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, “stressing at the same time the necessity of making the West Asia region free of all kinds of mass destruction weapons”.

Expressing his appreciation of India’s position on Arab rights, particularly the Palestinian cause and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, the Syrian President said that he had explained to the Indian President how Syria’s efforts for economic development and prosperity” were undermined by “the absence of peace in the region, as a result of Israeli policies, and despite Syria’s concerted efforts to achieve it”. In this context, he expressed the hope that Syrian-Indian relations, together with international efforts, will help put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

President Assad also stressed that the volume of trade exchange was not commensurate either with the historical and political ties between the two countries, nor with “the capabilities of our two countries” and the position they enjoyed “ in terms of geographical location or the regional blocs” to which they belonged to and allowed them “access to vast and promising markets for the flow of trade”.

President Patil, on her part, recalled that when the bilateral Joint Commission met in June this year, the two Foreign Ministers had resolved to double bilateral trade in the next two or three years — this resolve was reiterated again on Saturday.

Three agreements were also signed between the two countries on Saturday: An agreement on cultural cooperation for the years 2010-2013 was inked by Secretary (East) Vijaya Latha Reddy and the Syrian Deputy Minister of Culture, Dr. Ali Kayyam; a memorandum of understanding between the General Organisation for Radio and Television in Syria and Prasar Bharati was signed by Indian Ambassador to Syria V.P. Haran and Director-General of Syria’s official radio and TV agency Eng Maan Haidar; and another memorandum of understanding between the Syrian Arab News Agency and the Press Trust of India was signed by PTI Associate Political Editor Sunil P. Gatade and DG, SANA Adnan Mahmoud.

The two Presidents also discussed cooperation in a range of ranging from agriculture, health, oil, mineral resources, phosphates, electricity, transport, telecommunications, technology and higher education, while examining the possibility of “building a real strategic partnership in areas like software, textiles, pharmaceuticals and food industry, suing advanced Indian technology.

President Patil said that one of the reasons that economic engagement had not reached its potential was because of a lack of awareness of each other’s requirements and capabilities. “In the talks, today,” she said, “India had offered $100 million Line of Credit to be used in Syria in sectors to be mutually agreed on.”

While this will be the Third Line of Credit, she said the purpose behind this offer was to encourage Indian companies to involve themselves in developmental projects in Syria, which will give them good exposure to the Syrian market, and showcase to Syria the potential of Indian companies. The India-Syria Business Council, which will be launched on Sunday, will focus on strengthening economic and commercial links.

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