Diplomatic Correspondent

Three agreements to be signed with GermanyIndia keen on exploring gas, oil in Uzbekistan

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Germany and Uzbekistan on Saturday for a five-day visit, senior External Affairs Ministry officials announced on Thursday. The Prime Minister and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are scheduled to jointly inaugurate the Hanover industrial trade fair. Shashi Tripathi, Secretary (West) in the Ministry told presspersons that the Prime Minister would be the first Asian leader to visit Germany since Ms. Merkel took over as Chancellor. According to her, the two leaders will also have the opportunity to hold a political dialogue.

More than 300 Indian companies were expected to participate in the Hanover fair, Ms. Tripathi revealed. "The time is right for synergy between the countries," she stated. India and Germany are also scheduled to set up a bilateral energy forum during the Prime Minister's visit. Three agreements - in the field of railways, research in infectious diseases and standards - are to be signed during the visit. The Prime Minister and Ms. Merkel will also address an Indo-German business meeting on April 24. Asked about the recent comments made by German Ambassador Bernd Mutzelburg to The Hindu on the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear deal, Ms. Tripathi felt these were "encouraging".

Addressing the press on the Prime Minister's visit to Uzbekistan, Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said that India wanted to get involved in exploring gas and oil in the Central Asian nation. Mr. Sikri hinted that some agreements, involving either ONGC Videsh or Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL), might be signed during Dr. Singh's visit.

According to the Secretary, India and Uzbekistan were already engaged in a dialogue on counter-terrorism and had common concerns about drug trafficking. The two countries wanted to work together in combating "fundamentalism" and also had shared interests in Afghanistan.