President Pratibha Patil said on Sunday evening that she would “highlight the tremendous scope for investing in India's infrastructure,” while emphasising the possibilities for further expanding trade between India and the United Arab Emirates.
The President was speaking to journalists on board a special aircraft as she embarked on her two-nation tour — the UAE and Syria — of the Middle East.
Ms. Patil said that when she met members of the business community in the UAE, her emphasis would be on the fact that India's “fast growing, stable economy” made it an “attractive investment destination” for the UAE.
Bilateral trade between the two countries now stood at $43 billion, making the UAE one of India's leading trade partners.
If the UAE leg of the President's tour will focus on attracting investment for Indian infrastructure, and on setting up systems for the welfare of an often-beleaguered Indian community — especially the blue collar workers among them — the Syrian leg will focus on the political dimension. Significantly, this will be the first presidential visit to Syria from India.
Concern for community
Hours before landing in Abu Dhabi, her first stop, Ms. Patil underscored the second element of her visit to the UAE — concern for the Indian community, which constitutes the largest expatriate community in that country.
“The welfare of the overseas Indian community, particularly our workers, is always uppermost in my mind,” she said, announcing that she would be inaugurating the Indian Workers' Resource Centre (IWRC) in Dubai.
Earlier, on Friday, Latha Reddy, Secretary (East), told journalists in New Delhi that the IWRC was “designed to provide a 24-hour helpline and counselling services to distressed workers.”
Ms. Patil's programme in the UAE will also include interactions with other sections of the Indian community, whose profile has been changing over the years — the number of white collar workers has been steadily increasing.
The President said she would also meet children at the Abu Dhabi Indian School, students at the Dubai Academic City, and inaugurate the Indian Islamic Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Ties with Syria
Pointing out that India and Syria long enjoyed traditionally friendly ties and cooperated actively in the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Ms. Patil said that “significantly” Syria had expressed support for India's permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council.
“India, on its part,” she added, “has always supported all just Arab causes, and has consistently supported the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, which remains occupied by Israel since 1967.”
Referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's visit to India in June 2008, Ms. Patil said she looked forward to continuing in Damascus the discussions she had with him in Delhi on bilateral, regional and internal issues.
There will be a business aspect to the President's visit to Syria — she will be addressing Indian and Syrian businesspersons and launching the India Syria Business Council.
“As Syria opens its markets and embarks on massive development, there should be plenty of opportunities for India to expand its economic links,” she said.
Syria, she added, was also important for India's energy security. Ms. Reddy had stressed on Friday that India's “engagement in the hydrocarbon sector with Syria had been rewarding,” and that ONGC-Videsh Limited (OVL) had investments in the Al Furat Petroleum Company, and had struck oil in Block 24.