PM seeks Saudi investment in India's infrastructure sector

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday invited Saudi businessmen to explore investment opportunities in India, given its vast needs for high quality modern infrastructure.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today invited investors and entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia to explore investment opportunities in India, given its vast needs for high quality modern infrastructure.

"We have opened our doors to foreign investment...I would specifically refer to the construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, health, agriculture, energy, telecommunications, tourism and other service sectors," he told the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh today.

Dr Singh reached Riyadh yesterday evening at the start of a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship beyond the traditional areas of cooperation between the two countries.

He said the two countries should also look at new areas of cooperation and pointed out that education and skill development were of primary importance to both of them.

He said India had a proven track record in the field of knowledge-based industries, which had great potential for improving the skill set of the work force.

"India would be happy to share her experience with Saudi Arabia in the area of human resources development. Cooperation in the areas of science and technology and space technology are other areas for future cooperation," he said.

The Prime Minister also called for greater exchanges among the Chambers, industry associations and business houses of both sides. He said more frequent participation in trade fairs and exhibitions would create greater awareness of each others’ capabilities, he said, assuring his government's full support to the expansion of business-to-business links between the two countries.

He said the integration of their economies with the rest of the world had created new opportunities but also brought new challenges. He said the global financial crisis had thrown up a broad agenda for global action and reforms.

"The role of emerging economies such as India and Saudi Arabia within the G-20 framework and otherwise will be crucial to the restructuring of the global economic and financial architecture," he remarked.

Dr Singh said India viewed its economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the wider context of its interactions with the entire Gulf region.

"This is an area with which we have deep and historical ties. The Gulf countries are our natural partners in every sense of the term. Indians are the largest expatriate community in every country of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Our businesses should work together across the region, develop cross-country linkages and leverage economies of scale," he said.

He hoped the interaction between the two sides would bring vitality and dynamism in the cooperation between our two economies.

"India sees Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner for promoting peace, stability and economic development. Such a partnership will bring benefits not only to our two countries but to the region we both belong to, and to the world at large," he said.

Saudi Commerce and Industry Minister Zainal Ali Reza and Mr Abdul Rahman al-Jeraisy, Vice-Chairman of the Council, were amongst those present on the occasion.

Dr Singh said he had had some association with the evolution of the India-Saudi Arabia economic partnership, having attended the 4th session of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission as Finance Minister in 1994/

"A lot has changed between then and now in our bilateral relations, in our two economies and in the global environment," he said.

According to him, the visit of King Abdullah to India in January 2006 was a defining moment in the relations. The landmark Delhi Declaration that the two leaders signed had identified higher flows of trade and investment, better connectivity and exchange of ideas as the central pillars of the joint vision for an enhanced economic partnership.

He said he looked forward to his dialogue later today with King Abdullah to carry forward the momentum and take the entire gamut of the relations to even greater heights. "I believe this is not only eminently possible, but also necessary," he said.

Dr Singh noted that, since 1990, Saudi Arabia's economy had quadrupled in size. He said it had undergone substantial diversification with the strengthening of the non-oil sector. The ambitious economic cities that are proposed to be set up have the potential to further transform the Saudi economy. All these developments have and will widen employment opportunities for the growing young population in Saudi Arabia, and enhance Saudi Arabia’s economic weight globally, he said.

He said India, too, had registered significant grwoth and was in the midst of a major socio-economic transformation. He said the Indian economy had grown at an average annual rate of over nine per cent in the last few years.

"Despite the global economic slowdown, we hope to achieve a growth rate of over 7 per cent in the current financial year. We expect to get back to the growth level of about 9 per cent per annum within two years. Our domestic saving rates are high, and can support investment rates of as high as 38 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. India is an economy with a huge market, and a young and expanding work force. We have a vibrant and innovative private sector," he said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that both countries had in place a sound institutional mechanism to facilitate trade and investment, including a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement.

"Eight meetings of the Joint Commission have been held, the last having met in October 2009. We cooperate within the framework of the India-GCC Industrial Conference, and negotiations are in progress to finalise a India-Gulf Cooperation Council Free Trade Agreement," he said.

He said India deeply valued Saudi Arabia's role as a reliable partner in meeting its energy needs.

We believe that conditions are ripe for moving beyond a traditional buyer-seller relationship to a comprehensive energy partnership. Indian companies are well equipped to participate in upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in Saudi Arabia. We should also establish new partnerships in the area of new and renewable energy through sharing of clean technologies and joint collaborations," he said.

Dr Singh said the robust growth of the two economies offered immense opportunities for the business communities from both sides.

"Our bilateral trade has reached almost 25 billion US dollars in 2008-09. Indian investments into the Kingdom have risen considerably and today stand at more than 2 billion US dollars covering over 500 joint ventures. Several major Indian companies have already established their presence in the Kingdom. Our public sector company, RITES has recently won a contract to participate in the North-South Railways project. There is however potential for doing much more," he added.


Tharoor in controversy over "interlocutor" remark in Saudi Arabia

File photo of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.
File photo of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, who is accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to Saudi Arabia, today found himself in the middle of a controversy, clearly caused by a misunderstanding of the word "interlocutor" that he used during a conversation with journalists.

"We feel that Saudi Arabia, of course, has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia an even more valuable interlocutor for us," Dr Tharoor was quoted as saying.

"When we tell them about our experience, Saudi Arabia listens as somebody who is not in anyway an enemy of Pakistan but rather is a friend of Pakistan and therefore I am sure will listen with sympathy and concern to a matter of this nature," he said.

He was answering a question on the kind of cooperation that India could expect from Riyadh given its close relationship with Islamabad.

The problems for the Minister began when some media reports used Dr Tharoor's remark that "that makes Saudi Arabia an even more valuable interlocutor for us" was taken to mean that he said that the kingdom could be a "valuable interlocutor between India and Pakistan".

What Dr Tharoor had said was that Saudi Arabia was a valuable interlocutor for India, which was misinterpreted. From then onwards, it was just one short step before it was made out in some media reports that he had suggested that Saudi Arabia could be a mediator between India and Pakistan.

That was enough to stir up a political hornets' nest, given the fact that India has always opposed any suggestion about a role for a mediator to help sort out the differences between India and Pakistan.

For the record, the dictionary says "interlocutor" means a person who takes part in a conversation or dialogue. A "mediator" is a person who mediates, especially between parties at variance, one who reconciles differences between disputants.

"No chance of my saying Saudi Arabia should be a mediator. Never said that or anything like it," Dr Tharoor told a television channel.

And in one of his tweets on micro-blogging site Twitter, the Minister said, "Good day of mtgs, marred in someIndian media by misunderstanding of word 'interlocutor'. An interlocutor is someone u spk to, nothing more.

"If I speak to u, u are my interlocutor! I mentioned the Saudis as OUR interlocutors, ie the people we are here to speak to. Some misinterpretn," he added in another tweet.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, condemned Dr Tharoor's reported remarks, describing them as "utterly irresponsible"/

BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad said Dr Tharoor appeared to have floated a trial balloon. He said the remarks were an attempt to "internationalise" the issue.

Mr Prasad said the BJP would seek a clarification on the issue from the Prime Minister in Parliament.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) also described Dr Tharoor's remarks as "irresponsible" and a deviation from India's stated position. The party, too, felt the Prime Minister owed an explanation to Parliament in this regard.

Late in the evening, Dr Tharoor issued a statement in Riyadh: "A section of the media has misread the remarks made by me in Riyadh last evening. What I basically said was that Saudi Arabia is a valuable interlocutor for India. Any other interpretation was neither meant nor warranted," he said.


Emirates Airline opens luxury lounge at Mumbai airport

The Dubai-based Emirates Airline has become the first international airline to open a dedicated passenger lounge in India when it launched one at the Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

A press release issued by the airline said the lounge would play host to Emirates' first class and business class passengers as well as members of Skywards Gold, its frequent flyer programme.

"This lounge is part of our commitment to provide world-class services to our passengers. With the exclusive Emirates lounge in Mumbai, combined with our trademark Chauffeur Drive Service, our First and Business Class passengers will enjoy greater comfort and convenience when travelling from their doorstep through to their final destination," Mr Mohammed Mattar, Emirates' Divisional Senior Vice President - Airport Services, said.

Set over an area of more than 650 square metres, the lounge can accommodate 100-plus guests at a time, including 38 fine diners and seven in the business centre, the release said.

Emirates operates five daily flights from Mumbai. Among other facilities, the lounge has complimentary broadband Internet connections, telephones, designer leather sofas and massage recliners. The wi-fi enabled lounge also has flat-screen televisions, designer bathrooms with shower facilities, including one exclusive provision for the physically challenged, and an extensive collection of international and local newspapers and magazines. Additionally, the Emirates lounge has two widescreen displays alerting passengers of their flight schedules.

Guests can treat themselves at the 24-hour buffet serving Indian, Arabic, Italian and Continental cuisine, the release said.

Emirates operates 35 weekly flights from Dubai to Mumbai and an overall 184 weekly flights to 10 Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.


PM in Saudi Arabia on visit aimed at imparting strategic character to ties

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship between the two countries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Saudi Arabia today on a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship beyond the traditional areas of cooperation between the two countries.

In a rare honour and setting aside protocol, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, brother of King Abdullah and the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the kingdom, and the entire Saudi cabinet received Dr Singh on his arrival at the Royal Terminal of the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

Among others, Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, President of General Intelligence, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al Saud, Minister of Education, Prince Dr. Mansour bin Mit'eb bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Municipal and rural Affairs, Prince Mit'eb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Commander of the National Guard for Executive Affairs and other princes and senior, civil and military officials.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and other members of the Saudi Cabinet at the Royal Airport of King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on February 27, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and other members of the Saudi Cabinet at the Royal Airport of King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on February 27, 2010.

The Prime Minister, who was given a red carpet welcome, shook hands with the Saudi Ministers. He will be accorded a formal reception by King Abdullah tomorrow at the Al Rawdah Palace, where their talks will be held.

It may be recalled that Dr Singh had gone to the airport to personally receive King Abdullah when he made a State Visit to India in 2006.

In a pre-departure statement here before embarking on the trip, Dr Singh said he and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud would also explore ways of promoting greater stability and security in the region.

"My visit carries special significance. I am conscious of the fact that this will be only the third visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia. I, therefore, have a vast agenda for discussions with the Saudi leadership," he said.

Dr Singh said his visit reflected the strong mutual desire of both countries to reinvigorate bilateral relations as manifested in King Abdullah's historic visit to India in 2006 as the Chief Guest of India's Republic Day celebrations.

"The Delhi Declaration that we signed on that occasion constitutes a valuable blueprint for our cooperation in the future," he said.

The Prime Minister said the Gulf region was an area of vital importance for India's security and prosperity. He pointed out that India and the kingdom had enjoyed special relations based on several millennia of civilisational and cultural linkages and people-to- people exchanges.

He also noted that the Gulf state was India’s largest and most reliable supplier of its energy needs from the region. Saudi Arabia is home to an Indian community numbering about 1.8 million. As many as 165000 Indian pilgrims perform the Haj annually. India's trade and investment linkages have grown though they remain much below the potential of our two economies, and must be broad based, he said.

Dr Singh said there was great scope for opening new frontiers of cooperation in the areas of security, defence, science and technology, space, human resources development and knowledge-based industries.

"I believe India and Saudi Arabia have much to gain by cooperating with each other in combatting extremism and terrorism. I expect to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues of mutual interest," he said.

The Prime Minister said he also looked to addressing the members of the Majlis al-Shura. He said a business delegation of CEOs was accompanying him, and he would address the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. In addtion, he will also meet members of the Indian community.

Dr Singh is accompanied on the visit by his wife, Ms Gursharan Kaur, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and senior officials.

Cooperation in counter-terrorism measures and security matters would be high on the agenda of the visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the kingdom in 28 afters after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit in 1982.

Apart from King Abdullah, Dr Singh will also meet several senior Saudi Ministers who are scheduled to call on him.

The two sides are expected to sign several agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) on a broad range of cooperation in the areas of security, including an extradition treaty and a pact on exchange of sentenced prisoners, science and technology, culture and media during the visit.

Bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia exceeded $ 25 billion in 2008-09 and many Indian companies are active in various sectors in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia meets nearly 20 per cent of India's crude oil requirements and India is looking at expanding ties with the kingdom in the area of hydrocarbons.

It is learnt that India has invited the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), one of the largest manufacturers of chemicals, petrochemicals and fertilisers, to invest in petrochemical and fertiliser projects in India. Similarly, it is understood to be keen on invstment from oil giant Saudi Aramco in refineries in this country.

The two sides are likely to announce the setting up of a Saudi-India investment fund during Dr Singh's visit.

Since King Abdullah's landmark visit in 2006, the two countries have exchanged as many as 19 ministerial visits, indicating the close bilateral relationship is developing between the two countries. Bilateral trade has tripled in this period.


Karzai calls PM, promises full probe into Kabul terrorist attack

Afghan President Hamid Karzai today called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and expressed his condolences on the loss of Indian lives and injuries sustained by many others in yesterday's terrorist attack in Kabul yesterday.

An official statement said here that Mr Karzai promised a full investigation into the attack.

Dr Singh convyed India's outrage at the incident. He thanked the Government of Afghanistan for the assistance being given and requested Mr Karzai to ensure full security for Indian nationals in Afghanistan.

The two leaders agreed to stay in touch with each other, the statement added.

The attacks were carried out early yesterday morning on two guest houses in the Afghan capital which were popular with Indians and other foreigners.

There were some Indians in the 32 others injured in the attacks, but most of them were reported to be out of danger.


US commends India, Pakistan for FS-level talks

File photo of US Assistant Secretary P J Crowley at a State Department daily briefing in Washington.
File photo of US Assistant Secretary P J Crowley at a State Department daily briefing in Washington.

The United States has commended the political leadership in India and Pakistan for holding talks between their Foreign Secretaries in New Delhi yesterday and hoped the two countries would build on this dialogue in the weeks and months ahead.

"As we have long encouraged the restoration of dialogue, it is an important step for Pakistan and India, and we commend the political leadership in both countries," US Assistant Secretary of State Philip J Crowley told journalists here on Thursday, hours after the talks in New Delhi.

"I think it’s the highest-level meeting between India and Pakistan since the tragedy in Mumbai. And we certainly hope that both countries will build on this dialogue in the weeks and months ahead," he said.

When a journalist remarked that nothing had come out of the meeting, Mr Crowley said that, given the fact there were some events recently where some elements were trying to derail the prospect of the meeting, because they recognised it had bee beneficial to both countries in the past, it was a courageous step to open the door to dialogue again.

"And we certainly commend the leadership of political courage and making sure that the meeting takes place. Now, the challenge is to build on this going forward," he added.


9 Indians among those killed in Kabul suicide attacks

At least nine Indians were among 18 people killed and 32 others injured in suicide and car bomb attacks on two guest houses in Kabul which were popular with Indians and other foreigners in the Afghan capital.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna described the attacks as "heinous" and said that, as per the preliminary information provided by Afghan Government officials, upto nine Indians were among those who had lost their lives.

He said the deceased Indians included Government officials. He also said that there were a few Indians among those injured, most of whom were reported to be out of danger.

The Minister said arrangements were being made for providing them adequate and expeditious treatment, if necessary, by evacuating them to India. He said further details about the incident were being ascertained.

India has strongly condemned the attack, the third on Indian officials and interests in Afghanistan in the past 20 months. The attacks on the Embassy of India in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009 had claimed the lives of Indian diplomats and officials and several Afghan nations, he said.

"These barbaric attacks are a matter of deep concern and are clearly aimed against the people of India and the people of Afghanistan. These are the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan, and do not wish to see a strong, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan," Mr Krishna said.

He said the international community and the people of Afghanistan faced a clear danger from the perpetrators of such acts of terrorism and their patrons.

"The scourge of terrorism must be resolutely opposed, resisted and overcome through undiluted commitment and effort by the international community," he said.

The Minister extended sincere condolences, on behalf of the Government, to the families of all those who had lost their lives in the dastardly attack, including the families of the Indian officials who laid down their lives in the line of duty.

"Though the irreplaceable loss of these families can never be recompensed, all necessary steps will be taken for the welfare of the dependants of the deceased officials," he said.

The Government is in close touch with the Government of Afghanistan on all aspects concerning the safety, security and welfare of Indians in that country, Mr Krishna added.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has come at a time when the American-led coalition forces have launched a major offensive against militants in the southern Afghan province of Helmland.

Residents in Central Kabul first head a loud explosion around 6.30 am, which was followed by gunfire and two smaller explosions.


Rao says talks with Pakistan sincere attempt to initiate dialogue

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao today said the February 25 talks with her Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi was another "sincere attempt" by India to initiate dialogue with Pakistan and hoped the two countries could build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern to them.

"Our relationship with Pakistan is complex," she said in an address on "Perspectives on Foreign Policy for a 21st Century India" at the 3rd MEA-IISS Seminar in London.

She said India had, out of its desire for peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan, repeatedly taken initiatives in the past two improve the relationship.

"You are aware that the dark forces of terrorism sought to erase the good that stemmed from such well-intentioned initiatives. We are now making another attempt of dialogue with Pakistan. However, calls of jihad, hostility and aggression continue to be made openly against India," she said.

Ms Rao said this reflected the real and tangible difficulties that India faced in dealing with Pakistan.

"If the process of normalization that we desire with Pakistan, is to be sustained and taken forward, effective action against such groups by the Government of Pakistan is an absolute must," she said.

She said Pakistan had, under pressure and faced with the threat of terrorism in its own country, had initiated some steps to fight this scourge.

But she said these steps were selective and that distinctions between the Taliban, al Qaeda and terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba were now meaningless, since they were now in effect fused both operationally and ideologically.

"We have consistently maintained that Pakistan should bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice expeditiously and in a transparent manner. It should act decisively to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its territory," she said.

In the course of her address, Ms Rao first delineated India's foreign policy priorities and how its approach was shaped by a globalising wold. She then spoke about climate change, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and terrorism, issues which formed part of the seminar. She also dwelt at some length on India's neighbourhood.

She said India's foreign policy aim was to secure an enabling environment to achieve the overriding domestic goal of all round, socially inclusive development.

She said the corollary to this was that a free and democratic India was a source of stability and a force for moderation in the region.

She pointed out that India accounted for more than 70% of the population and more than 80% of the GDP of South Asia.

"We want to widen our development choices. We have a keen sense of our potential to be a great power by virtue of our population, our resources and our strategic location. A fundamental goal of India’s foreign policy is to create an external environment that promotes the fulfillment of our economic growth targets and ambitions. And, these include three dimensions – capital inflows, access to technology and innovation, as well as the promotion of a free, fair and open world trading system that recognizes the development imperatives of a country like India. This requires a peaceful and stable neighbourhood and external environment, a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order," she said.

Ms Rao said that, at the global level, India had worked with its international partners to address the complex challenges to revive the global economy.

"The 2008 global economic and financial crisis triggered the further evolution of the G20, of which India is a key constituent. At the Pittsburgh Summit, the G-20 was designated as the premier forum for international economic cooperation. We see the G-20 process as a move towards a more representative mechanism to manage global economic and financial issues," she said.

She felt the new global realities required that the existing governance models, put in place over six decades ago, be revisited and reorganised. In this regard, a dynamic global political and security order required the urgent reform of the UN Security Council as well, she said, adding that India saw its case for permanent membership of the Security Council as valid and legitimate.

Ms Rao spoke about the growth achieved by India in recent years but acknowledged this was not enough.

"To abolish poverty in India and to meet our development needs, we need to keep our economy growing at 8-10% every year for the next 20 years," she said.

On Climate Change, she said there was need for stable and predictable financing from the developed countries. There was also need for a global mechanism whereby climate friendly technologies could be disseminated to the developing countries.

Referring to the Copenhagen Accord, she said the world's collective effort should now be to bring the significant points of convergence reflected in the Accord into the larger multilateral process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to ensure a balanced, comprehensive and above all, an equitable outcome, at the Mexico Conference by end-2010.

She also said that nuclear power generation, despite its high entry level costs, provided a way out, particularly in relation to the wider issues of global warming and climate change.

The Foreign Secretary said India had been affected by clandestine nuclear proliferation in its neighbourhood and was, naturally, concerned about the possibility of nuclear terrorism.

She said India beleived that the Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 hosted by United States President Barack Obama would be an important milestone in the efforts to build international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism.

She said India had identified some initiatives that could be the building blocks of a new global, verifiable nuclear disarmament framework. "These include: a global agreement on ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear-weapons and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states; measures to reduce nuclear danger through de-alerting, reducing salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and preventing unintentional or accidental use; a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their destruction etc.," she said.

She said India would support the emerging consensus in the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a programme of work.

"Last year, we supported the work plan including commencement of negotiations on the multilateral FMCT. On this latter issue, which we see as an important non-proliferation measure, India has had a consistent position – we are willing to negotiate a multilateral, non-discriminatory, effectively and internationally verifiable FMCT," she said.

Ms Rao spoke at length on terrorism, which she said posed an existential threat to the civilised world.

"It is a pivotal security challenge for India and in our neighbourhood. Terrorists have sought to undermine our sovereignty, security and economic progress, aided and abetted by forces beyond our borders. Our embassy in Kabul has faced vicious suicide bomb attacks twice, in 2008 and 2009. The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the more recent outrage in Pune, have once again demonstrated the barbaric face of terrorism. Terror groups implacably opposed to India continue to recruit, train and plot attacks from safe havens across our borders," she said.

She said open democratic societies such as India faced particular challenges in combating the threat of terrorism and listed the steps taken by the Government in recent times to address this through legal, institutional and administrative measures.

"At the same time, it is clear that the threat from terrorism cannot be dealt with through national efforts alone. Global outreach and linkages among terror networks are now quite evident and they are becoming more active. The global nature of the threat has been recognized widely. Global efforts to tackle the problem also need to be intensified. Terrorism needs to be countered collectively and expeditiously. It is time that the international community works towards early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that was tabled at the UN over a decade ago in 1996. We must act jointly and with determination to meet the challenges posed by terrorism and to defend the values of pluralism, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law," she said.

Turning to India's neighbourhood, Ms Rao said the country's goal of ushering in a peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood was predicated on enabling each of its neighbours to pursue the shared objective of the development of their peoples.

"We do not see this as a zero sum game but as a cooperative endeavor, requiring collaboration rather than confrontation, so as to enable each of our neighbours to grow. We do not see this as a compulsion but as a natural choice voluntarily made; a corollary of the inter-dependent world we live in. We believe that our strengths place us in a unique position to actively support the socio- economic development in our region," she said.

Ms Rao said the greatest threat to peace and stability in the region emanated from the shelter terrorists find in the border of Afghanistan-pakistan and in Pakistan itself.

"The recent international approaches to Afghanistan, in particular the London Conference last month, are focusing on security and reintegration, development, governance and regional and international cooperation. The issue of reintegration should be tackled with prudence, the benefit of hindsight, foresight and caution. We believe that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include only those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution," she said.

She went on to provide details of India's engagement with Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and other members of SAARC.

She also spoke about India's relations with China, Japan and ASEAN and its role in the IBSA and BRIC groupings, among others.



India-US partnership can help meet challenges facing world: US official

Robert O. Blake.
Robert O. Blake.

A senior United States official has said that few relationships around the world mattered more or held greater promise for constructive action on the challenges that mattered most to all than the partnership between India and the US.

"That doesn’t mean that we will always agree, because we won’t," Mr Robert O Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs said at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Friday.

"But together we can build on the solid foundation that already exists, an even stronger partnership that serves not only the interests of our two countries, but of the rest of the international community," he said.

He said the US and India shared common ideals and complementary strengths reflected in their very close people-to-people contacts, their shared embrace of democratic principles and their willingness to work together on issues that matter not only to them, but to the global community.

Mr Blake's address was the on theme of seizing on the opportunties before the US in its relations with India and he used the opportunity to tell his audience why India was such an important partner for the US and the ways the two countries were seeking to build this partnership.

He said India was the fourth largest economy in the world, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, thanks to the reforms begun by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and had a vibrant private sector and the largest number of billionaires in Asia.

He also pointed out that India faced serious challenges, with large sections of its population still suffering from poverty, malnourishment, illiteracy and lack of access to clean water, among other problems.

"But as we look at the web of challenges we face from North Korea to the Middle East and beyond, we see India as a model of a tolerant, pluralistic society with a democratic system of government. We see a country where increasingly convergent values and interests have allowed us to forge a strategic friendship that benefits both Indians and Americans. And we see promise that as India’s economy grows and its stature rises, it will be an increasingly important, and influential friend of the United States, buttressed in part by our strong people to people ties," he said.

Mr Blake said the India-US partnership would be one of the defining relationships in American foreign policy. He said that, in recognition of India's importance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited the country last July to launch with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna a Strategic Dialogue which called for increased collaboration under five foundational pillars: strategic cooperation; energy and climate change; education and development; economics, trade and agriculture; and science, technology, health and innovation.

He also pointed out that, in a further signal of India's importance to the US, President Barack Obama had hosted Dr Singh in November for the first state visit of the Obama presidency. He said Mr Obama had further underscored the importance of India to the US by promising to make a reciprocal visit to India, most likely later this year.

"Both countries believe we now have a unique opportunity to make progress on our broad bilateral agenda," he said.

Mr Blake said the Congress Party’s unexpectedly strong showing in last year’s elections gave Dr Singh a mandate to proceed with his agenda "without the brake of unhelpful coalition allies like the Left that he had in his first term."

"We have bipartisan support in both countries for pursuing stronger ties. And we have in Prime Minister Singh a leader with vision, experience, and a firm commitment to deepening the warm ties between our two peoples," he said.

Mr Blake said the India-US civil nuclear deal turned probably the most significant irritant in bilateral relations into an opportunity for cooperation.

"This has the potential to lead to billions of dollars worth of opportunities for American companies, and many thousands of jobs as a result of that. A few more steps are still required, and we expect them to be completed in the next few months," he said.

On defence cooperation, he said the bilateral exercise programme continued to grow and to strengthen. He said defence sales were also of great interest to American companies. "We’ve already seen some very important defense sales just in the last year or two of C-130Js and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. The Indian government also recently submitted a Letter of Request for 10 C-17 aircraft worth about $2.5 billion. And that’s not the end of it," he said.

Mr Blake said there were large numbers of important potential deals, up to $18 billion worth of new opportunities that will become available in the next several years, most notably the multi-role combat aircraft purchase which by itself is a roughly $10 billion sale in which two American companies—Boeing and Lockheed Martin—were competing.

"That the Indians are now considering U.S. manufacturers and U.S. technology to meet their military aircraft requirements—which would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago—is just one measure of how far and how rapidly our relationship is evolving," he said.

He said a critical component of the strategic cooperation framework was counterterrorism and the two countries were cooperating more and more, particularly since the horrific November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

He also spoke about the area of nuclear non-proliferation, in which the two countries could work more closely as partners.

Referring to regional dynamic between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Blake said all three countries faced the common threat of terrorism.

"While we would like to see India and Pakistan reach a stable relationship, they will do so on their terms at the appropriate time.

"At the same time, India has become a valuable, in fact, a top five contributor to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. India has contributed valuable assistance to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, both in infrastructure, such as construction of the Parliament building and highways, and humanitarian, such as food aid to 2 million schoolchildren. It has pledged over $1.2 billion in assistance," he said.

Mr Blake also spoke at length on the bilateral cooperation in the areas of agriculture and trade, education, health, science and technology, innovation, energy and climate change.


US happy that Pune blast has not derailed India-Pakistan talks

US Assistant Secretary P J Crawley at the State Department daily briefing in Washington on February 18, 2010.
US Assistant Secretary P J Crawley at the State Department daily briefing in Washington on February 18, 2010.

The United States has said it is encouraged that the tragic bomb blast at a popular eatery in Pune last Saturday, which killed 11 people and left 55 others injured, had not derailed the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan slated to be held in New Delhi on February 25.

"...we’re most pleased with the political courage showed by leaders on both sides that notwithstanding the attack which was directly aimed at derailing this dialogue, that there is this political commitment to move forward with talks," US Assistant Secretary Philip J Crowley said at the Department of State daily press briefing on Thursday.

"And we think that’s going to be extremely important," he said.

"There have been times in the past where India and Pakistan have had formal and informal dialogue. We think that this is a vitally important relationship to stability in the region," he said.

Asked what the US expectations were from the meeting, Mr Crowley said the real key was what the expectations were on both sides - India and Pakistan.

"But we think that there are significant issues. There are tensions, obviously, in the relationship, but they can be best resolved through dialogue. And India and Pakistan share a threat of extremism and we think that – we are totally supportive of these meetings and look forward to seeing the results," he added.


UN Climate Change chief Yvo de Boer decides to quit

Mr Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), today announced he had decided to step down from his position to pursue new opportunities to advance progress on the issue in both the private sector and academia.

A UN press release said Mr de Boer would stay in his current position until July 1 before joining the consultancy group KPMG as a Global Adviser on Climate and Sustainability and working with several universities.

The announcement came just two months after the Copenhagen Accord was reached at the UN summit on climate change in the Danish capital in December.

The Accord aims to jump-start immediate action on climate change and guide negotiations on long-term action, pledging to raise $100 billion annually by 2020. It also includes an agreement to working towards curbing global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and efforts to reduce or limit emissions.

"Working with my colleagues at the UNFCCC Secretariat in support of the climate change negotiations has been a tremendous experience," Mr de Boer said in Bonn, Germany, where the body’s Secretariat is based.

"I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business," he emphasized.

Countries did not reach a clear legal agreement in Copenhagen, but, he noted, "the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming. This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen."

In his remaining months as UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Mr. de Boer, who took up his post in September 2006, aims to move negotiations ahead before the next global conference to be held in Mexico later this year, the release said.

"Countries responsible for 80 per cent of energy related CO2 emissions have submitted national plans and targets to address climate change," it quoted him as saying. "This underlines their commitment to meet the challenge of climate change and work towards an agreed outcome in Cancun."

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that to stave off the worst effects of climate change, industrialized countries must slash emissions by 25 to 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and that global emissions must be halved by 2050.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a new high-level advisory group, headed by the leaders of the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, intended to mobilize financing swiftly to help developing countries combat climate change.

"Let me emphasize the importance of rapid action," Mr. Ban told reporters here. "Developing countries need to move as quickly as possible toward a future of low-emissions growth and prosperity," he stressed, noting that millions of people in Africa and around the world are suffering from climate change’s effects.

Additionally, Mr Ban emphasized that assisting with adaptation efforts is a "moral imperative," as well as "a smart investment in a safer, more sustainable world for all."


Scindia on Middle East tour, meets Peres

Minister of State for Commerce & Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia met Israeli President Shimon Peres during a three-day visit to Israel and discussed with him various aspects of bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Mr Scindia said the proposed free trade agreement between India and Israel was expected to give a major boost to trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

He also discussed possibilities of developing further cooperation in high tech areas, including information technology, biotechnology and nano technology to take advantage of mutual core competencies.

According to an official press release issued here today, the two sides also exchanged views on the global challenge posed by terrorism and the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in the area of homeland security.

Both leaders agreed to emphasise greater cooperation in the application of science & technology, particularly in areas related to agriculture and water management.

Mr Scindia later met Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade & Labour Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who underlined the fact that R&D constituted a fundamental basis for core competence in multiple industrial areas for both countries.

Mr Scindia proposed that a practical step to enhance high tech cooperation would be to set up a Government to Government joint technology incubator initiative in India with representation from both sides, including the private sector.

He also met leading Israeli industrialists to discuss promotion of trade and commerce between the two countries and spoke on "Indian Economy in the Next Decade - an Engine for Growth" at a seminar jointly organised by the Israeli Export and International Cooperation Institute and the Embassy of India.

Bilatral trade between India and Israel in 2008-09 was valued at $ 3.55 billion, with exports from India amounting to $ 1.5 billion and imports into India totalling $ 2.09 billion. Trade increased at a compound annual growth rate of 15 per cent over the last five years.

Earlier, Mr Scindia visited Jordan, where he met Minister of Industry & Trade Amer Hadidi; Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh and Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources Khaled Anis Irani and discussed the possibilities for exploring and enhancing trade between the two countries.

The talks between the two sides focused on ways to augment the bilateral trade and also covered issues of mutual interest, the release said.

The Minister said there was vast potential for expanding trade between the two countries in sectors such as leather, information technology, pharmaceuticals, construction material and automobiles.

The two sides agreed to hold the next session of the Indo-Jordan Trade and Economic Committee in Amman as early as possible. The committee had last met in New Delhi for its eighth session in August, 2006.

Bilateral trade between India and Jordan was estimated at $ 1.785 billion in 2008 and $ 934 million in the first 11 months of 2009.

Jordan’s imports from India were valued at $ 503 million in 2008 as compared to $ 469 million in 2007. India’s main items of exports to Jordan consist of electrical machinery & equipments, engineering goods, organic chemicals and aircraft & parts. India’s main imports from Jordan are phosphates, phosphoric acid, fertilizers, inorganic chemicals, aluminium and lead, the release added.


Obama calls PM, condemns Pune blast, condoles loss of lives

United States President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday morning to condemn the bomb blast carried out by unidentified terrorists at a popular eatery in Pune last Saturday evening, in which 11 people have died and 55 others were injured.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Mr Obama also condoled the loss of lives in the explosion, which was the first major terrorist incident in India since the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai which had claimed 166 lives.

In their brief conversation, Mr Obama and Dr Singh also took the opportunity to review developments in Indo-US relations, the officials added.

The blast occurred around 7.30 pm on Saturday when the restaurant was teeming with youngsters and foreigners, when a waiter noticed an unattended backpack under one of the tables and tried to open it.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) is investigating the case with assistance from officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The eatery is very close to the Osho Ashram and a Jewish Chabad House, both of which had been surveyed by suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley during one of his visits to India.

Headley, a US national of Pakistani origin, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, also believed to be an LeT operative, were arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from Chicago in October last year for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Denmark and India.

Subsequent investigations have led the authorities in the US and India to believe that the two men were involved in the conspiracy to carry out the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.


India offers 10 health fellowships for developing countries

India has offered ten fellowships at the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare in New Delhi for member-countries of Partners in Population and Development (PPD) to help them build their capacity in the health sector.

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad made the offer at a meeting of the executive committee of PPD held under his chairmanship in Dhaka, Bangladesh yesterday.

PPD is an inter-governmental alliance of 25 developing countries working to promote South-South cooperation in the field of reproductive health, family planning and population and development.

The headquarters of PPD is in Dhaka. India, China, Tunisia, Kenya and Bangladesh are the members of its executive committee. The Indian Health Minister is the current chair of the executive committee as well as the Board of the organisation.

According to an official press release, the issue of further strengthening the organisation and fostering better South-South cooperation in the area of health was discussed at length at the meeting.

Members stressed the need for raising more resources for undertaking more projects i the area of reproductive health, capacity-building and other population-related issues.

The meeting also discussed the question of constructing a building for the permanent secretariat of PPD in Dhaka and decided that the concept note and the requirement of funds would be presented at the next meeting of the committee.

The next meeting of the executive committee and the Board of PPD will take place in Indonesia from 20 October 25-28. It was also decided to organize a two-day international workshop on this occasion in Indonesia where the successful health-related programmes from various member-countries will be presented and discussed, in order to learn from the experiences of each other.


Sarkozy condemns Pune blast, assures India of solidarity

French President Nicolas Sarkozy today strongly condemned the "abominable" and "cowardly" bomb blast at an eatery in Pune on Saturday in which nine people were killed and 57 others injured.

In a statement in Paris, Mr Sarkozy expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and the people and the Government of India.

He also, on behalf of France, assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of France's full and entire solidarity.

Mr Sarkozy reaffirmed his determination to fight terrorism relentlessly and expressed his support to India in its efforts to bring the perpetrators of "these unspeakable criminal acts" to justice.

French Minister for External and European Affairs Bernard Kouchner also strongly condemned the the "inexcusale" terrorist and criminal act. "France is at India's side in her fight against this scourge," he added.


India, Bangladesh to cooperate on fighting communicable diseases

Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad with his Bangladeshi counterpart A F M Ruhal Haque in Dhaka, on February 14, 2010.
Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad with his Bangladeshi counterpart A F M Ruhal Haque in Dhaka, on February 14, 2010.

India and Bangladesh have agreed to ensure better cooperation between the two countries to contain cross-border transmission of communicable diseases.

At a meeting between visiting Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad with his Bangladesh counterpart A F M Ruhal Haque in Dhaka today, the two sides agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) covering health-related issues on which there could be mutual sharing of expertise, knowledge and information.

They also decided that the two countries, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, would try and have common immunisation days to ensure that the population on both sides of the border are adequately covered.

Mr Azad offered India's help to Bangladesh in developing super-specialty skills by typing up with centres of excellence in India.

Prof Haque said Bangladesh was keen to learn from the expertise gained by India in curbing the influenza pandemic. Mr Azad invited experts from Bangladesh to visit the testing centres developed by India.

India's plan to introduce a new curriculum for rural medical practitioners in the country also evoked interest. Mr Azad invited Prof Haque to visit India to take the discussion forward, the release added.


Fleet tanker for Indian Navy launched in Italy

The Indian Ambassador in Rome, Arif S. Khan addressing the gathering during the launch of fleet tanker INS Deepak, at Muggiano, Italy on February 12, 2010.
The Indian Ambassador in Rome, Arif S. Khan addressing the gathering during the launch of fleet tanker INS Deepak, at Muggiano, Italy on February 12, 2010.

The first of the two fleet tankers being built for the Indian Navy at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy was launched at a colourful ceremony at Muggiano, Italy yesterday.

Mr Arif S Khan, the Indian Ambassador in Rome, was the chief guest on the occasion. The ship, christened "Deepak", was launched by Ms Farida Khan, wife of the Ambassador.

According to an official press release, the construction of the ship uses modern and state- of-the-art ship construction methods and concepts in a challenging time frame of two years. The ship is in double hull configuration which provides greater safety against accidental oil spillage in accordance with latest MARPOL regulations.

The trials of the ship will start in April 2010, and delivery of the ship and commissioning is scheduled in India in the later part of 2010. The second fleet tanker is under construction at the Fincantieri Yard of Sestri Ponente, Genoa, and is scheduled for delivery in 2011, the release added.


Nepalese President to visit India from Feb 15-18

Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav will arrive here on February 15 on a four-day State Visit that is expected to further strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

This will be the first visit by Dr Yadav to a foreign country after his election as President in July, 2008 and is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level interaction between the two countries.

Dr Yadav will meet President Pratibha Patil, Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj during his stay in the capital.

"India and Nepal share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterised by an open border and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts. The visit of the President of Nepal will further strengthen the friendly ties that exist between India and Nepal," an official statement added.



Former US President Bill Clinton undergoes heart procedure

File photo of former US President Bill Clinton.
File photo of former US President Bill Clinton.

Former United States President Bill Clinton underwent a procedure to place two stents in one of his coronary arteries in New York on Thursday, one of his aides said.

"Today President Bill Clinton was admitted to the Columbia Campus of New York Presbyterian Hospital after feeling discomfort in his chest. Following a visit to his cardiologist, he underwent a procedure to place two stents in one of his coronary arteries," Mr Douglas Band, Counselor to Mr Clinton said.

"President Clinton is in good spirits, and will continue to focus on the work of his Foundation and Haiti's relief and long-term recovery efforts," he added.

Mr Clinton, 63, had, in 2004, undergone a successful quadruple bypass operation to free four blocked arteries.

Mr Clinton's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rushed to New York from Washington to be with her husband. Their daughter Chelsea was also at the hospital.

Ms Clinton is due to travel to Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf on this weekend and indications were that the trip will take place, though her departure might be delayed so that she could spend more time with Mr Clinton in New York.


Injured Vayalar Ravi to reach Chennai Thursday evening

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, who was injured in a road accident on February 4 while an on official visit to Liberia in West Africa, is expected to reach Chennai tomorrow evening by a special Indian Air Force Flight IFC 34 from Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

He will be later taken to the Madras Medical Mission in Chennai for further treatment. The Government had said yesterday that the Minister would reach Chennai by midnight tonight. The flight will have the required medical support on board.

Mr Ravi had met with the accident while on his way to the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, to catch a flight to Lagos in Nigeria. After initial treatment at the John F Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, he was airlifted to Abidjan for further treatment at the PISAM Hospital.

The Government of Liberia had, on the request of the Indian mission in that country, arranged to airlift Mr Ravi to Abidjan.

According to the release, the Minister had a miraculous escape and had not suffered any major injury. His health is stable and he is recovering well, it said.

Mr Ravi was on a tour of West African countries from January 29 and had visited Ghana and Liberia. His visit to Nigeria was cancelled after the accident.


Injured Vayalar Ravi to be flown home Wednesday night

The Government has arranged to bring Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, who was injured in a road accident on February 4 while an on official visit to Liberia in West Africa, back to India by a special aircraft with the required medical support on board.

The special flight is expected to reach Chennai around midnight tomorrow night from Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

Mr Ravi had met with the accident while on his way to the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, to catch a flight to Lagos in Nigeria. After initial treatment at the John F Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, he was airlifted to Abidjan for further treatment at the PISAM Hospital.

The Government of Liberia had, on the request of the Indian mission in that country, arranged to airlift Mr Ravi to Abidjan.

According to an official press release here today, the Minister had a miraculous escape and had not suffered any major injury. His health is stable and he is recovering well, it said.

It said Mr Ravi had expressed his gratitude to the Indian community and other people who had assisted in his recovery and also thanked the large number of people including the top leadership of India, who had in the last few days expressed their concern and wished him speedy recovery.

In particular, he thanked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Defence Minister A K Antony for making arrangements for his return by a special aircraft. He also thanked ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for her good wishes.

Mr Ravi was on a tour of West African countries from January 29 and had visited Ghana and Liberia. His visit to Nigeria was cancelled after the accident.


Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit India from Feb 7-11

Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will pay a State Visit to India from February 7 to 11 during which he will hold talks with Indian leaders on ways of forging closer ties between the two countries.

Mr Gul will be accompanied on the visit by his wife, Mrs Hayrunnisa Gul, Mr Mehmet Aydin, State Minister and co-Chairman of the Joint Economic Commission, Dr Recep Akdag, Minister of Health, Mr Binali Yildirim, Minister of Transportation, Members of Parliament senior officials and several businessmen.

An official press release said that, during his visit, Mr Gul would meet President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari and hold delegation level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Ms Patil will also host a banquet in his honour.

Minister of External Affairs S M Krishna and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj will call on Mr Gul during his stay in the capital.

The Turkish President and his delegation will also visit Agra and Mumbai. He will inaugurate the Turkish consulate in Mumbai and attend business interactions organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Delhi and Mumbai, the release added.


SAARC Home Ministers' meet in Islamabad postponed

The two-day meeting of SAARC Home Ministers, which was scheduled for February 26-27 in Islamabad and which Home Minister P Chidambaram is to attend, has been postponed, sources said here today.

The decision to postpone the meeting was taken because the dates were not convenient for the Nepalese Home Minister, the sources said. They said Nepal had requested Pakistan to reschedule the meeting to a later date.

According to the sources, new dates for the meeting would be finalised after consultations among the eight member-countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation.

The grouping brings together India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan.

Mr Chidambaram's proposed visit to Islamabad for the meeting had aroused a lot of interest in both countries because it would have been the first visit by an Indian Minister to Pakistan since the November 26, 2008 terror attack on Mumbai.

India had suspended dialogue with Pakistan after the horrific attack, which had claimed 166 lives and said talks could be resumed only after Pakistan brought the culprits responsible for 26/11 to book and dismantled the terrorist groups operating against India from its soil.

Meanwhile, India has proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries and the dates for the meeting are currently being discussed between the two sides.

The visit to Islamabad will give Mr Chidambaram an opportunity to meet his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik and get a first-hand update on the progress that Pakistani investigators have made in the 26/11 investigations.


Hungary evinces interest in civil nuclear deal with India

Hungary has expressed a desire to be part of India's new strategic focus on nuclear energy and to enter into a civil nuclear agreement with it.

At a meeting with visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma in Budapest yesterday, Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai also offered to collaborate with India in the fields of bio-fuels and non-conventional energy, including wind energy, as well as in fossil fuel exploration.

Mr Sharma said India would support cooperation in bio-fuels provided there was no diversion of foodgrains for the purpose.

Hungary had supported India in the run-up to the India-United States civil nuclear deal and had backed its cause in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

During the meeting, the two countries signed an agreement on social security which will facilitate short-term employment for Indian professionals in Hungary.

Under the agreement, Indian IT professionals and other professionals taking up short-term employment in Hungary will be able to make contributions to the social security scheme and the same will be reimbursed to them after they finish their employment in that country.

Earlier, such professionals contributed to the social safety net but could not get their money back after fulfilling their employment tenure. If the professionals decide to migrate to another country, the agreement will ensure that their entire contribution is transfered to that country and his place of employment.

According to an official press release, both sides discussed the huge potential in auto components manufacturing and the need for cooperation between the two countries in this area.

They also decided to activate the "Strategic Fund" that has been established for the purpose of cooperation and joint ventures in science and technology. The corpus of the fund is euro 2 million, with fifty per cent contribution from each country. Both countries will make annual contributions to the fund in this ratio.

Mr Sharma and Mr Bajnai also stressed the need to establish a science and technology network between the two countries through this fund, the release added.


Vayalar Ravi hurt in road accident in Liberia

The Union Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi called on the President of the Republic Ghana, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, in Ghana on February 01, 2010.
The Union Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi called on the President of the Republic Ghana, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, in Ghana on February 01, 2010.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi suffered minor injuries in a road accident while on an official visit to Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa today.

An official press release here said Mr Ravi met with the accident this morning as he was on his way to the airport in Monrovia to take a flight to Lagos in Nigeria.

He has been admitted for treatment to the John F Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, where he is recovering.

"It is expected that he will be taken to Abidjan in Ivory Coast for check-up and any further treatment that may be necessary," the release said, adding that the Minister's visit to Nigeria had been cancelled.

Mr Ravi was on a tour of West African countries from January 29. On February 1, he had visited Ghana, where he met President John Evans Atta Mills and discussed various bilateral issues between the two countries.

He also met Mr Cletus Avoka, the Interior Minister of Ghana, for discussions on issues of mutual interest, the release said.

Mr Ravi expressed satisfaction over the prompt action taken by the government of Ghana to address the security concerns of the Indian community living in that country. He sought Ghana's cooperation in fighting cyber crime to prevent the cheating of innocent persons by fake employers who make lucrative job offers. Mr Avoka promised all cooperation in this regard.

The Minister also had a meeting with Mr Chris Kpodo, the acting Foreign Minister of Ghana, the release said.

The Indian Association of Ghana organized a function in honour of the visiting Minister. Mr Ravi told the meeting of the measures being taken by the Government of India to strengthen the cultural bond between Indians living abroad and their motherland and to safeguard their economic and other interests in India. He also addressed a large section of the Indian community at a function organized by the High Commission of India at India House, the release added.


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