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Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki to visit India Nov 16-17

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will pay a two-day official visit to India from November 16-17 for talks aimed at strengthening the bilateral relations.

"His visit carries forward the sequence of regular high-level contacts between India and Iran. The visit will provide an opportunity for both sides to discuss issues of mutual interest and further strengthen the civilisational and historical ties between India and Iran," a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said.

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Canadian PM Stephen Harper to visit India Nov 15-18

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will arrive here on November 15 on a four-day official visit to India that is aimed at boosting bilateral relations between the two countries.

Mr Harper will be accompanied by his wife Laureen Harper, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day and a Parliamentary delegation, an official press release said here today.

During his visit, Mr Harper will call on President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari and hold discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Among others, he will also meet External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani.

According to the release, Mr Harper's discussions with Dr Singh will include a review of the bilateral agenda and an exchange of views on regional and global issues of common interest.

India and Canada share a commonality of values, including an abiding commitment to democracy, pluralism and the rule of law, it stressed.

In recent years, the India-Canada bilateral agenda has diversified to include new areas of cooperation such as science and technology, agriculture and space. Bilateral trade has been increasing steadily, reaching $ 4.6 billion in 2008.

India and Canada are negotiating the institutional framework for enhancing bilateral trade and investment, including a Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement and a Social Security Agreement, and are currenttly considering the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement.

There is a large community of non-resident Indias and people of Indian origin in Canada, which has strengthened people-to-people linkages between the two countries, the release added.

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India, Japan decide to boost defence cooperation

India and Japan today expressed their firm determination to take forward their bilateral defence exchanges and cooperation in a meaningfulway and to work together in the fight against terrorism.

In a Joint Press Statement issued in Tokyo after talks between visiting Defence Minister A K Antony and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa, the two sides also voiced their commitment to contribute to bilateral and regional cooperation, in fora such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), in the field of peace-keeping, peace-building and disaster relief operations.

The two Ministers conducted a comprehensive review of defence cooperation issues and discussed defence exchanges. The regional and international security situation also came up for discussion at the meeting.

The two sides condemned terrorist activities and expressed their determination to enhance cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

They also recognised their mutual interest in the safety of sea-lines of communications and welcomed the recent reinforcement of cooperation in the field of maritime security between the two defence authorities as well as the inauguration of the Japan-India Maritime Security Dialogue which was held in India last month.

The two Ministers shared international concerns on piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and expressed their support for international anti-piracy efforts.

They also expressed their determination to accelerate bilateral discussions on various measures to further promote defence exchanges and cooperation through a Defence Action Plan, as envisaged between the Prime Ministers of the two countries in October last year.

The statement said the two sides would develop such an action plan and hoped that it would be signed during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to India for the annual India-Japan Summit.

According to it, the two Ministers expressed their desire to hold annual meetings and expressed their expectation that the Second Defence Policy Dialogue will be held at the earliest mutually convenient time in India next year.

The two sides also reiterated the importance of strengthening Service-to-Service exchanges such as Staff Talks including Navy-to-Navy and Ground-to-Ground Staff Talks, as well as bilateral exercises between Japan Self Defence Forces and the Indian Armed Forces to enhance cooperation and core ability for maritime security operation and disaster relief.

Mr Antony was accompanied by a high-level delegation including the Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri V K Saraswat and the Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral D K Dewan.

Mr Antony's visit to Tokyo is the first by an Indian Cabinet Minister after the new Government led by the Democratic Party of Japan assumed office in that country after the recent elections. He is due to return to the capital tomorrow.

Bilateral security and defence cooperation between India and Japan are guided by the Joint Statement issued by the Defence Ministers of both sides during the visit of then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Japan in May 2006 and the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Japan and India which was issued during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Japan in October last year.

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India hands over Dhruv helicopter to Mauritius

India has handed over a Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter to Mauritius, which has been inducted into the country's police force.

The helicopter was handed over by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor to Dr Navichandra Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of Mauritius, at a function in Port Louis yesterday during a three-day visit to that country.

An official press release said the helicopter into the Mauritius Police Helicopter Squadron would allow patrolling, search and rescue operations and participation in disaster relief and emergency medical missions. The helicopter is ideally suited for VIP transport, it said.

Dr Ramgoolam and Dr Tharoor, accompanied by Mauritian Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell took a short ride in the helicopter after the function.

The release said an Inter-Governmental Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the two sides in the presence of Dr Tharoor and Dr Ramgoolam for the supply of the Coastal Surveillance Radar System from India to Mauritius.

An agreement was also signed between the Mauritian government and the public sector Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) for the supply, installation and commissioning of the system.

The MoU provides for the setting up of eight of the systems in Mauritius, five of them on the main island and one each on the islands of Rodrigues, Agalega and St Brandon. BEL will offer training and technical support to Mauritian personnel.

An India-Mauritius Joint Monitoring Committee will be set up with members from the two Governments and BEL to facilitate the implementation of the project and review the progress of work.

During Dr Ramgoolam's State Visit to India in October, 2005, India had agreed to the request of Mauritius to provide a Line of Credit of $ 100 million with a grant component of $ 25 million. The Dhruv helicopter costing $ 10.4 million and the Coastal Surveillance Radar System worth Euro 2.4 million are both covered under the grant element of the Line of Credit, the release said.

Dr Tharoor was the Chief Guest at the celebrations commemorating the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the indentured labourers from India in Mauritius on Monday.

The annual function, Aapravasi Divas, is held at the historic Aapravasi Ghat where the first indentured labourers from India landed on November 2, 1834.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Tharoor recalled the difficulties which would have been encountered by the forebears of current Mauritians to make the country what it is today.

He noted that India and Mauritius enjoyed traditional bonds of friendship and kinship founded on a historical and shared cultural heritage and assured that India is ready to share its experience with Mauritius and move towards consolidation and expansion of its multi-dimensional partnership and remain committed to a mutually beneficial comprehensive engagement.

During the visit, Dr Tharoor called on Mauritian President Anerood Jugnauth and Dr Ramgoolam. He also met Dr Boolell. Bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest were discussed at these meetings. They also reviewed the strength and content of bilateral cooperation.

While in Mauritius, Dr. Tharoor delivered an address to a 80-member audience in the University of Mauritius on the subject "India-Africa: Partners in Development". He also visited the Secretariat of the Indian Ocean Rim – Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC).

During the course of his visit, Dr. Tharoor visited SSR Botanic Garden, Pamplemousses and laid the wreath at the Samadhi of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the Father of the Nation of Mauritius. He visited the Le Morne World Heritage Site, a site in memory of the slaves who arrived in Mauritius over two centuries ago. He also visited Ganga Talao, where he was received by Mr. Anil Bachoo, Minister of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping. He also interacted with various socio-cultural organisations in Mauritius. Dr. Tharoor also met members of the Mauritius Writers Association.

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India-Nepal Home Secretary-level talks on Nov 6-7

India and Nepal will hold Home Secretary-level talks in Kathmandu on November 6-7, during which the two sides will discuss various issues of bilateral concern.

An official statement said that the meeting would in particular discuss issues relating to security and border management.

Union Home Secretary G K Pillai will lead the Indian team to the talks while the Nepalese side would be headed by his counterpart Govind Prasad Kusum.

During his stay in Kathmandu, Mr Pillai is also likely to call on the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of Nepal.

The last round of Home Secretary-level talks between the two countries was held on October 31-November 1, 2008 in New Delhi.

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India House in Singapore wins Architectural Heritage Award

The newly-renovated India House, which is the residence of the Indian High Commissioner in Singapore, is among eight restoration projects chosen for Architectural Heritage Awards for 2009 by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The house was purchased by the Government of India in 1948. It was dilapidated and was also severely damaged by a fallen repair.

The restoration of the original tropical black and white bungalow, constructed in 1911, lasted nearly two years and was funded and monitored by the Ministry of External Affairs here, an official press release added.

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Sharma calls for India-Egypt economic partnership

Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Nazif at Cairo, Egypt on October 29, 2009.
Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Nazif at Cairo, Egypt on October 29, 2009.

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma today urged the business leaders of India and Egypt to work together for building a comprehensive economic partnership between the two countries.

Mr Sharma was speaking at a meeting of the Business Forum organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry in Cairo.

The Minister was in Cairo at the invitation of Egyptian Minister for Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid to attend an Informal African WTO Trade Ministerial Brainstorming Session on "Consolidating the Development Dimension".

India had hosted a similar Informal Ministerial Meeting on the Doha Round of WTO in Delhi, which Mr Rachid had attended.

Earlier this morning, Mr Sharma met Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and discussed with him a wide range of bilateral issues as well as global developments of mutual interest.

Mr Sharma briefed Dr Nazif about developments in India that have taken place since Egyptian Preident Hosni Mubarak's visit in November last year and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Cairo for the XVth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in July this year.

Dr Nazif invited Indian businessmen to set up joint ventures with Egyptian companies in an exclusive India investment zone that he has proposed to set up.

He also suggested that companies in both countries should explore the possibilities of establishing joint ventures in third countries. He said he was personally committed to taking Egypt's economic engagement with India to a higher level.

The Informal African WTO Trade Ministerial Brainstorming Session was attended by 22 other Ministers and the Director General of the WTO. The meeting focused on finding the ways and means of ensuring closer cooperation among the participating countries for adopting a common approach to the major issues coming up for discussions in WTO. It was felt that cooperation was the only way of protecting the interest of the developing countries in a forum like WTO.

At his bilateral meeting with Mr Rachid, the Indian Minister discussed ways of boosting economic and commercial relations between the two countries.

Bilateral trade between India and Egypt has been growing steadily and crossed the $ 3 billion mark for the first time in 2007-08. India has made significant investments in Egypt and there are some 40 projects in areas such as chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and garments which have received of a total of $ 750 million in Indian.

In addition, ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) and Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) have met investment commitments of $ 300 to 500 million in the oil exploration sector.

At the end of the talks, the two Ministers signed a Joint Action Plan for cooperation between the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry and India's Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). A Joint Committee will be constituted soon for implementation of the plan.

Mr Sharma was accompanied on the trip by a 16-member delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).

The delegation called on Dr. Mahmoud Safwat Mohyee El-Din, Minister for Investment of Egypt and had very productive meetings at Egyptian Ministry of Electricity & Energy, Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) and Egyptian Businessmen Association (EBA).

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India, Belarus discuss military and technical cooperation

India and Belarus have held talks to find ways of strengthening their bilateral relationship, especially in the area of military and technical cooperation.

Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju, who is on a four-day visit to Belarus, held wide-ranging discussions with the country's Defence Minister Colonel-General Leonid Semenovich in Minsk yesterday.

Mr Raju was briefed on the ongoing cooperation by Maj Gen Petr I Rogozhevsky, First Deputy Chairman of the State Military and Industrial Committee of Belarus this morning. Maj Gen Rogozhevsky is also the co-Chairman of the India-Belarus Joint Commission on Military Technical Cooperation.

Mr Raju, who is leading a four-member delegation, was due to call on Belarus President Alexander G. Lukashenko later today.

The Indian delegation includes Lt. General D. Bharadwaj, Director-General Mechanized Forces, Mr V. Somasundram, Joint Secretary (Ordnance Factories) and Major General (Retired) Ravi Khetrapal, Chairman-and-Managing Director, Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

According to an official press release, supplies of defence equipment and spares, refurbishment of missile systems and joint development of military hardware, including opto-electronics and gunpowder, are high on the agenda of Mr Raju’s visit.

India has sought from the erstwhile Soviet Republic supplies of opto-electronics for armament systems for tanks and combat vehicles, upgradation of BMP-2, T-72 and T-90 tanks including Fire Control Systems, Commander Panoramic Sights, Digital Ballistic Computer and missile firing capability.

BDL is holding talks with Teatradr for technology, equipment and spares for refurbishing the OSA-AK missiles for the IAF.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) signed a memorandum with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in December last year to set up a Joint R&D Centre in Minsk.

The release said DRDO had also signed contracts worth $ 2.6 million with various institutes under the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus for joint R&D of technologies in Laser and Powder Metallurgy.

During the October 24-28 visit, Mr Raju will visit Agat, the state scientific research enterprise, which has been collaborating with the DRDO for over 15 years and the two institutions are likely to enter into a long-term agreement soon. Twelve personnel from Belarus have undergone joint training in defence related programmes in India under the ITEC programme since last year.

India and Belarus have consolidated their defence ties with the holding of Joint Commission meetings on Military Technical Cooperation (MTC), on the pattern of a similar arrangement with Russia. The first meeting was held in Minsk in May, 2008, followed by the second in New Delhi in May this year. The two countries have had close defence ties since the signing of an MoU on Defence Cooperation in 1993, the release added.

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Singh calls for concerted response to terrorism, extremism

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said the growing threats from non-traditional sources of terrorism, such as piracy and extremist ideologies, needed a concerted response by all countries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with leaders of the other East Asia Summit countries at their meeting in Hua Hin, Thailand on October 25, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with leaders of the other East Asia Summit countries at their meeting in Hua Hin, Thailand on October 25, 2009.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the growing threats from non-traditional sources of terrorism, such as piracy, transnational groups and extremist ideologies, would increasingly require a concerted and cooperative response by all countries.

Addressing the 4th East Asia Summit (EAS) in its retreat session in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, Dr Singh said the world would also have to pay greater attention to issues of social exclusion and regional imbalances in development.

"The fight against pandemics and collaboration in disaster management are other areas which will need our attention," he said.

Dr Singh also said that climate change was a major challenge facing the world, but it was particularly so for the developing and fast-growing economies in Asia.

He said the EAS process should come up with a workable model of sustainable development, with financing and technology transfers as its key elements.

"The challenge before us is to find a global mechanism which, while safeguarding the incentives for innovation and development of environment friendly technologies in the private sector, also simultaneously ensures the availability of such technology to developing countries at an affordable cost," he said.

The Prime Minister noted that the Summit was being held against the backdrop of the global economic and financial slowdown. He said the G-20 leaders had met thrice and the coordinated response to address the crisis that had emerged from the G-20 had had some effect.

However, he felt it was still too early to say whether the world was completely out of trouble. He said he supported Australian's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's suggestion for a meeting of EAS Finance Ministers to examine sources of growth in the region.

Dr Singh said the launching of the EAS in 2005 in Kuala Lumpur was an act of foresight and an act of faith in the collective potential of the 16 member-countries.

The EAS comprises the 10 ASEAN countries and Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Dr Singh said that today the world's eyes were on Asia as the region which could lead the global economic revival from the front.

"The Asian tigers captured the world’s attention a few decades ago. Today, six of the twenty members of the G-20 belong to the East Asia Summit," he said.

He said there were lessons to be learnt from the global economic crisis, including the need to ensure coordination in growth policies and to keep the real economy strong and sound. He said he agreed with Japan that greater emphasis had to be laid on growth of domestic demand.

He said it was also important to keep the flows of trade, technology and investment open, orderly and predictable.

The Prime Minister said the evolution of the EAS process should conform to its first declaration issued in Kuala Lumpur which called for the grouping to be an open, inclusive, transparent and outward looking forum.

"We need to move forward in this direction, and exhibit the requisite political will. Economic integration among us could generate billions of dollars of additional output," he said.

The Prime Minister said the vision of Asian economic integration by coalescing the Free Trade Agreements among member Asian countries into an Asian Regional Trade Agreement was a pivotal step towards the integration of Asia into a common unit.

This could lead to the creation of a broader Asian Economic Community, he said, stressing that the focus should be on generation of stronger domestic demand in Asian economies through investment in infrastructure, creation and strengthening of the social welfare net, skill development of the workforce and environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth.

He said India welcomed the recommendations of the Phase II Report on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia with regard to the three pillars of economic cooperation, facilitation and liberalisation. An early realisation of its roadmap for economic and financial integration would be the right step forward for our grouping, he said.

Dr Singh pointed out that India was playing its part in this process. It had signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with Singapore and Korea and recently a Trade in Good Agreements with the ASEAN. It was in discussions with Japan, China, Thailand and Malaysia and other countries to conclude agreements of a similar nature, he said.

He said the proposals generated by the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia [ERIA] to develop a blueprint for financial and economic integration of the EAS region, especially in the area of infrastructure development and connectivity, were promising, and deserved encouragement. India would contribute $ 1 million over a period of ten years for enlarging the activities of ERIA, he said.

He also expressed happiness over the statement adopted by the Summit on the establishment of the Nalanda University in Bihar in India.

"This has been the product of many months of hard work put in by the Nalanda Mentor Group, and will be a shining example of cooperative action in the field of education," he added.

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India-ASEAN summit commits to fight terrorism, other crimes

The 7th India-ASEAN Summit has reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with each other in addressing challenges such as terrorism and transnational crimes.

The 7th India-ASEAN Summit held in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin yesterday has reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with each other in addressing transboundary issues and global challenges such as terrorism and transnational crimes, especially in the area of drug trafficking.

Other areas in which the countries agreed to cooperate are food and energy security, natural disasters, new and emerging infectious diseases and climate change.

The Summit, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, encouraged ASEAN and India to undertake activities to implement the Joint Declaration on Cooperation to Combat Terrorism.

The meeting, which was also attended by the Heads of State or Government of the 10 ASEAN member-states, was chaired by Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the leaders of the ASEAN before the 7th India-ASEAN Summit at Hua Hin in Thailand on October 24, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the leaders of the ASEAN before the 7th India-ASEAN Summit at Hua Hin in Thailand on October 24, 2009.

The ASEAN leaders suggested that India, as a member of the G-20, could play an important role in coordinating efforts between developed and emerging economies to mitigate the negative impact of the current global economic and financial crisis.

India could also work with ASEAN to complement the global efforts in the reform of the international financial architecture and accelerate the early recovery of the global economy, it said.

India, in turn, welcomed ASEAN participation at the London and Pittsburgh G-20 Summits and expressed its support for the continued participation of ASEAN Chair and the Secretary General of ASEAN at the G-20 Summits.

The ASEAN leaders congratulated Dr Singh on his re-election as the Prime Minister of India in May this year for a second straight five-year term and expressed its conviction that his second term would further strengthen and cement the existing and close partnership between the grouping and India.

The meeting expressed satisfaction a the progress of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations which have deepened and broadened over the past years and developed into a multi-faceted and dynamic partnership contributing to regional peace, mutual understanding and closer economic interaction.

It also appreciated India’s "Look East Policy" as reflected in her active role in various regional fora such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, Mekong-Ganga Cooperation and BIMSTEC, which help contribute to enhancing regional dialogue and accelerating regional integration.

The meeting expressed satisfaction with the steady progress of implementation of the ASEAN – India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity, and agreed that a new and more enhanced phase of the Plan of Action to implement the Partnership be launched before the next ASEAN-India Summit, in order to seize the opportunities and overcome the challenges arising from the global financial crisis and the evolving political and economic landscape.

The Summit welcomed the the signing of ASEAN- India Trade in Goods Agreement at the 41st ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting on August 13 this year and encouraged its early implementation by January 2010.

"We are confident that the Agreement will allow our producers and exporters to derive full benefits from the potential of our combined markets. For our people to further reap the benefits of free trade, we entrusted our Ministers and officials to work towards the early conclusion of services and investment agreements," the statement said.

In view of the agreement, the meeting agreed to revise the India-ASEAN bilateral trade target to US $ 70 billion to be achieved in the next two years, noting that the initial target of US $ 50 billion set in 2007 might soon be surpassed.

According to the statement, the Summit encouraged the re-activation of the ASEAN-India Business Council and the ASEAN-India Business Summits in order to strengthen business networks and opportunities.

In this regard, it noted that the proposal had received a positive response from the Indian business community. The leaders, therefore, tasked their economic officials to work with all parties concerned so that this Council and Business Summit could be convened next year.

The leaders emphasised the need to promote connectivity in the region by completing all the missing links between South and Southeast Asia and beyond.

In particular, they supported India’s vision to create an "Arc of Advantage" for the region through further integration of sea, road and rail links.

In this regard, the meeting also welcomed Thailand’s continued support of the development of the India- Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, and most recently, her pledge to improve the 30-km stretch from Thingannyinaung – Kawkareik which would form part of the westward link of the East -West Economic Corridor.

The Summit welcomed the adoption of the ASEAN-India Aviation Cooperation Framework at the 14th ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting in November 2008 which would lay the foundation for closer aviation cooperation and open skies, to support business growth, tourism and greater interactions between their peoples. In this regard, they noted that an ASEAN-India Air Transport Agreement is under discussion with the implementation timeline set for 2011.

The ASEAN Leaders appreciated India’s continued efforts in promoting people-to-people contacts and mutual understanding through visits to India of students, members of the media and diplomats, which help to foster ASEAN-India relations at the people's level. As India is one of the world’s largest democracies, they also encouraged exchanges of visits of ASEAN-India parliamentarians with the involvement of the ASEAN Inter- Parliamentary Assembly which would also promote democratic values.
The ASEAN Leaders appreciated India’s active role in promoting human resource development as a means to narrow the development gap such as establishing Entrepreneur Development Centres, Centres for English Language Training and IT Training Centres in CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam), which could also be extended to other ASEAN Member States.

They also noted that Entrepreneurship Development Centres would enhance the potentiality of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and ensure their ability to benefit from closer economic integration.

The statement stressed the importance of cooperation in science and technology and environment as a vital factor to promote dynamic and sustainable development in the region.

"In this regard, we looked forward to the early operationalization of the ASEAN–India Science and Technology Fund and the ASEAN- India Green Fund in order to support cooperation in these areas. Considering recent natural calamities in the region, we suggested that India and ASEAN make use of the funds by developing, among others, a technology programme for disaster management, building upon India’s expertise in IT and space technology," it said.

The meeting underscored the importance of cooperation and sharing of expertise in the field of pharmaceutical and health care, in view of the region’s comparative advantage and the need for greater access for all to affordable medicine.

The leaders agreed to develop low cost drugs and traditional medicines and tasked their Ministers and officials to develop a framework as appropriate for cooperation in these areas.

The ASEAN Leaders also appreciated the efforts made by India in promoting cooperation in the fields of traditional medicine and ayurveda, including, among other things, through the convening of workshops and the grant of scholarships.

The ASEAN leaders appreciated the initiatives proposed by Dr Singh in his address to the Summit which included:

• Establishment of an India-ASEAN round table comprising think tanks, policy makers, scholars, media and business representatives to provide policy inputs on future areas of cooperation;

• Continuation of negotiations on open skies policy and further

simplification of the visa regime to encourage business and tourism;

• Holding an ASEAN Trade and Industrial Exhibition in India;

• Enhancing cooperation in the agriculture sector with a view to meeting the challenges of food security; and,
• Cooperation in space technologies including sharing of satellite data for management of natural disaster and launching of small satellites and scientific instruments and payloads for experiments in remote sensing and communication for space agencies and academic institutions.

The ASEAN leaders tasked their officials and the ASEAN Secretariat to consider how to implement these initiatives as soon as possible.

They also welcomed the announcement made by Dr Singh to allocate, during the period of ASEAN Work Plan, US $ 50 million to the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund and the ASEAN Development Fund in support of these initiatives, as well as the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) programme and projects in the areas of education, energy, agriculture and forestry, small and medium enterprises, and implementation of the ASEAN ICT Master Plan.

The meeting also welcomed India's proposal to host an ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in 2012 to mark 20 years of their dialogue relations.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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India, China agree to build better trust, understanding

India and China on Saturday agreed to build better trust and understanding between them at the political level and not let differences become impediments in their relationship.

India and China today agreed to build better trust and understanding between them at the political level and not let differences become impediments in the development of their relationship.

At a meeting on the sidelines of the 7th India-ASEAN Summit in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin this morning, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao also agreed on the need to ensure that relations between the two countries remained robust and strong.

Mr Wen concurred with Dr Singh and said that issues that might arise in the course of the bilateral relations should be properly handled through discussions and should not become hurdles in the development of the friendly ties between the two countries.

The remarks assume importance given the tensions which had cropped up in the bilateral relationship on the border question between them and on Arunachal Pradesh, large parts of which China claims as part of its territory.

Dr Singh said that he agreed with Mr Wen's opening remarks that the India-China partnership was in the interest of the region and the whole world.

Mr Wen said that he agreed with Dr Singh's view on bilateral relations and recalled that it was duirng his visit to Delhi in 2005 that the two countries had jointly established their Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity.

Referring to the 10-pronged strategy agreed between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Dr Singh and the Shared Vision document they signed during the Indian Prime Minister's visit to Beijing last year, Mr Wen said it was important to implement these agreements and to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation on bilateral as well as regional and international issues.

Briefing reporters about the meeting, that lasted for nearly an hour, Mr N Ravi, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said the talks were held in a "warm and friendly atmosphere".

Mr Wen felicitated Dr Singh on his re-election as Prime Minister for a second term and noted that the two of them had reached important agreements on ways of developing and strengthening bilateral relations in recent years.

He said this served the interest of the two countries, the region and the world. He said the high-level visits between the two countries had strengthened the relationship.

According to Mr Ravi, the two leaders reviewed all aspects of the bilateral relationship. Dr Singh reiterated India's readiness to cooperate with China on global issues such as climate change, world trade and the global financial crisis.

The Prime Minister referred to ongoing bilateral cooperation in different fields and said he would like to see ties moving forward in every direction.

He said the economic and trade relations were a vital pillar of the partnership. He also referred to the exchanges in the area of defence.

Dr Singh proposed that the two countries should observe the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in a fitting manner.

He welcomed the coming visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to India next week for the India-Russia-China Trilateral Foreign Ministers' meeting in Bangalore. He said President Pratibha Patil was looking forward to visiting China on mutually convenient dates next year.

Mr Wen said that, for the Asian Century to become a reality, it was important that India and China should live in friendship and harmony and enjoy prosperity.

He said China was ready to maintain high-level exchanges. Both sides should seize the opportunity provided by the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations to heighten the bilateral relationship, he said.

Mr Wen also agreed with Dr Singh's recent remark about both sides having enough space to develop and cooperate. He said there were sufficient areas in the world for India and China ot enhance such cooperation.

The Chinese Premier said he fully shared Dr Singh's view on the importance of enhancing bilateral trade and economic relations. He suggested that the Joint Economic Group should hold early consultations.

He also said that China would work with India to handle the matter of the growing trade deficit. He said that China encouraged its companies to invest in India and that they welcomed Indian investments in China.

"We have reached important consensus on promoting bilateral ties, and I believe that our two countries could maintain a good relationship in the future, which conforms with the interests of the two countries and I have confidence about that," the Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Mr Wen as saying at the beginning of the talks.

Dr Singh recalled his recent meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Russia and the United States. He also conveyed his greetings to the Chinese people on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

This is the first meeting between the two leaders after irritants surfaced in the relationship in recent months.

There have been a spate of reports in the Indian media about alleged incursions from across the border into Indian territory. Both governments played down those reports.

But then China raised serious objections to Dr Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh on October 3 for campaigning in the state assembly elections. It also objected to the proposed visit to the state next month by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

India issued a statement some days ago asking China to desist from engaging in projects with Pakistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). Earlier, it had objected to the Chinese Embassy in Delhi issuing loose visas to Indians living in Jammu and Kashmir instead of stamping them on their passports.

Hua Hin, where the meeting took place, is in the Gulf of Thailand and about 200 km south of Bangkok. Dr Singh, who attended the 7th India-ASEAN Summit today, will participate in the 4th East Asia Summit tomorrow.

Apart from Mr Wen, Dr Singh was also due to have bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Cambodia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and the President of Indonesia on the sidelines of the two Summits before flying back home tomorrow evening.

The two countries have a long-standing boundary question, which involves large areas along their 4000-km border. The Special Representatives of the two countries have held several rounds of talks to find a solution to the dispute but have yet to come up with a settlement.

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Singh proposes initiatives to strengthen India-ASEAN links

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said India's engagement with the 10-nation ASEAN was at the heart of its "Look East" policy and proposed a series of initiatives to further strengthen the links between them.

"We are convinced that India's future and our economic interests are best served by greater integration with our Asian partners," Dr Singh said at the 7th India-ASEAN Summit in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin.

Dr Singh said that India was ready to allocate upto $ 50 million to support these initiatives during the period of the ASEAN Work Plan under the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund and the ASEAN Development Fund.

The initiatives proposed by the Prime Minister, in keeping with the ASEAN Summit's theme of "Enhancing Connectivity, Empowering Peoples", include the establishment of an India-ASEAN Round Table comprising think tanks, policy makers, scholars, media and business representatives to bridge the knowledge gap.

The Round Table would provide policy inputs to the governments of India and the ASEAN countries on future areas of cooperation.

He suggested intensification of negotiations on an open skies policy, further simplification of the visa regime to encourage business and tourist travel, a much larger number of youth exchange programmes, and commencement of exchanges of Parliamentarians between India and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.

Dr Singh proposed holding an ASEAN Trade and Industrial Exhibition in India in October 2010 or January 2011. He also suggested enhanced cooperation in the agriculture sector to meet the challenges of food security.

"The forthcoming meeting of our Agriculture Ministries in 2010 in India should identify specific areas of cooperation, including in extension services," he said.

He proposed cooperation in the application of space technologies, saying India would be ready to share satellite data for management of natural disasters, launch small satellites and scientific instruments and payloads for experiments in remote sensing and communication for space agencies and academic institutions in ASEAN countries.

He noted that India had been a partner in the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Programme and had been involved in projects for for skills upgradation such as Entrepreneurship Development Centres and Centres for English Language Learning in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. He said India would be happy to increase the number of such centres.

In addition, he said, India would be happy to participate in projects under the ASEAN's Work Plan for 2009-2015 in areas such as education, energy, agriculture and forestry, and small and medium enterprises.

The Prime Minister offered India's services for the realisation of the ASEAN ICT Master Plan for the period 2010-2015 and to assist in the creation of an e-network in ASEAN which could ultimately be linked up with select Indian institutions in diverse areas.

He said the conclusion of the India-ASEAN Trade-in-Goods Agreement in August 2009 was a major first step in the objective of creating an India-ASEAN Regional Trade and Investment Area.

"The journey was not easy, but we have succeeded in overcoming several difficulties, and this gives us hope for the future," he said.

According to him, India-ASEAN trade had grown at a healthy rate despite the recent global economic downturn. The volume of trade stood at US$ 48 billion in 2008.

He said that, despite the economic downturn, he was confident that the two sides could achieve their bilateral trade target of $ 50 billion by 2010.

"With the conclusion of the Trade-in-Goods Agreement, we should aim for an even higher target for our trade turnover. We attach high importance to the early conclusion of negotiations on the Trade-in-Services and Investment Agreement, and we should direct our officials accordingly," he said.

He noted that there had been good progress on all other initiatives taken by them, including those discussed at the last Summit in Singapore in 2007. These include the creation of an India-ASEAN Science and Technology Fund, the India-ASEAN Health Care Initiative, cooperation in traditional medicines, the India-ASEAN Network on Climate Change and the establishment of a Green Fund. Several programmes to promote people-to-people contacts are also being implemented.

"We look forward to working closely with the ASEAN and other countries of the East Asia Summit process to establish the Nalanda University as an international institution of excellence in education with a continental focus," he said.

The Prime Minister said 2012 would mark the 10th anniversary of India's participation as a summit level partner of ASEAN and 20 years as a sectoral dialogue partner.

Describing these as significant milestones which deserved careful peparation, Dr Singh suggested that the two sides could jointly consider organising a commemorative ship expedition in 2011-12 on the sea routes developed between the 10th and the 12th centuries linking India with South East Asia and East Asia. The sea route could cover modern and ancident ports in ASEAN and other East Asian countries, he said.

Dr Singh also offered to host the India-ASEAN Summit in 2012 in India. To ensure a substantive outcome, he proposed the setting up of a Joint Task Force to prepare a Vision Statement for India-ASEAN relations upto the year 2020.

He said this should take into account the growing strengths of both the ASEAN countries and India and how they could jointly harness their complementarities and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Asia.

He said that, given the steadily expanding range of their cooperation, it was important that they put in place effective monitoring and follow-up mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of the decisions they took.

"Our engagement with the ASEAN countries is a key element of India's vision of an Asian economic community that is based on an open and inclusive architecture. India wishes to partner ASEAN in realizing this vision on the basis of mutual benefit, mutual prosperity and mutual respect," he added.

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Singh meets Chinese PM Wen Jiabao in Thailand

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN and the East Asia Summits in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin on Saturday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of 7th ASEAN-India Summit in Thailand on October 24, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of 7th ASEAN-India Summit in Thailand on October 24, 2009.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN and the East Asia Summits in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin this morning against the background of tensions which have cropped up in the bilateral relationship on the border question between them.

Official sources said the two leaders would discuss bilateral issues and other issues of common concern.

"We have reached important consensus on promoting bilateral ties, and I believe that our two countries could maintain a good relationship in the future, which conforms with the interests of the two countries and I have confidence about that," the Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Mr Wen as saying at the beginning of the talks between the two leaders.

Dr Singh recalled his recent meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Russia and the United States. He also conveyed his greetings to the Chinese people on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

This is the first meeting between the two leaders after irritants surfaced in the relationship in recent months.

There have been a spate of reports in the Indian media about alleged incursions from across the border into Indian territory. Both governments played down those reports.

But then China raised serious objections to Dr Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh on October 3 for campaigning in the state assembly elections. It also objected to the proposed visit to the state next month by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

India issued a statement some days ago asking China to desist from engaging in projects with Pakistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). Earlier, it had objected to the Chinese Embassy in Delhi issuing loose visas to Indians living in Jammu and Kashmir instead of stamping them on their passports.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 

with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the delegation level talks between the two countries on the sidelines of 7th 

ASEAN-India Summit in Thailand on October 24, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the delegation level talks between the two countries on the sidelines of 7th ASEAN-India Summit in Thailand on October 24, 2009.

Dr Singh and Mr Wen are sure to discuss these issues and smoothen out the tensions in the relationship. They are also expected to look at ways of expediting a solution to the vexed boundary question between the two countries.

Hua Hin, where the summits are taking place, is in the Gulf of Thailand and about 200 km south of Bangkok.

Apart from Mr Wen, Dr Singh is also due to have bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Cambodia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and the President of Indonesia on the sidelines of the two Summits before flying back home tomorrow evening.

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Photos: Coutesy Press Information Bureau.

Shashi Tharoor to visit Benin Oct 21-23

Minister of State for External Affairs will pay a three-day visit to Benin from tomorrow during which he will co-chair the first meeting of the India-Benin Joint Commission at Cotonou along with Mr Jean Marie Ehouzou, the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The agreement to establish the Joint Commission on political, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation was signed during the first-ever state visit to India in March this year by Dr Boni Yayi, the President of Benin.

Benin, an example of a multi-party democracy in a tolerant multi-ethnic society, will be celebrating its 50th year of Independence next year.

India and Benin have friendly relations characterised by democracy and secularism. Benin is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and has cooperated with India in all international fora.

During Dr Yayi's visit in March, there was close convergence of opinions between the two countries at the highest political level. Dr Yayi had extended his unflinching support to India in its bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as also for the non-permanent seat for the years 2011-12. He had also expressed solidarity with India in its efforts to tackle the scourge of terrorism.

India has been extending bilateral assistance to Benin in the form of agricultural equipment, water pumps for irrigation, tractors and essential medicines, including anti-retroviral drugs.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced a $ 2 million grant in March 2009 to Benin, which is utilising the amount to get medical equipment, buses and computers from India.

Concessional lines of credit worth $ 33.80 million have been extended to Benin for rural electrification, purchase of railway equipment, agricultural equipment and to undertake feasibility study for a cyber-city.

Benin has also joined the Pan-African e-Network project of the Government of India and is availing the tele-medicine and tele-education facilities, an official press release said.

The release said that, apart from reviewing the entire gamut of bilateral relations and coordinating view-points on multilateral issues of concern at the meeting of the Joint Commission, Dr Tharoor will call on President Yayi and convey to him India's commitment to further strengthen and diversify bilateral cooperation.

Besides the official delegation that will include representatives of RITES and the National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC), a 15-member business delegation will also visit Cotonou for interaction with the business and industry in Benin.

Dr Tharoor will also address a meeting of Indian and Beninese business persons during his visit. He will visit the tele-medicine centre under the Pan-African e-Network project and flag off a Benin Railways train with an Indian locomotive. He will also use the opportunity to interact with the small Indian community in Benin, the release added.

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Krishna to visit Russia, Uzbekistan from Tuesday

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna will pay an official visit to Russia and Uzbekistan from today, an official statement said.

In Moscow, Mr Krishna will lead the Indian delegation to the 15th session of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC).

The meeting of the IRIGC will be co-chaired by Mr Krishna and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin. The two sides will sign a protocol summing up the discussions of the IRIGC during the visit. The 14th session of the IRIGC was held in New Delhi on December 3 last year.

This will be Mr Krishna's first visit to Russia since he took office as External Affairs Minister and he will call on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during his stay in Moscow. He will also hold bilateral discussions with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The visit is taking place ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scheduled visit to Moscow in December this year for the annual India-Russia Summit.

Mr Krishna will be in Tashkent on October 22-23 at the invitation of Mr Vladimir Norov, the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan.

During his visit, he will call on Mr Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan, and hold talks with Mr Norov on bilatera, regional and global issues of importance.

Mr Krishna will also pay his respects at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial thee and inaugurate the India Centre at the Al Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies. He will also attend a reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador for the Indian community, the statement added.

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India calls for zero tolerance to terrorism at SCO meeting

Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora meeting the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Head of Government (SCO HOG) Meeting, at Beijing on October 14, 2009.
Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora meeting the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Head of Government (SCO HOG) Meeting, at Beijing on October 14, 2009.

India today said the time had come for the world to adopt a policy of zero tolerance to terrorism and called for greater cooperation, exchange of information and coordination to tackle the menace.

Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of Government meeting in Beijing that terrorism and the ideologies of exclusion and intolerance threatened to undo whatever the world had achieved.

"All of us who have gathered here take pride in our civilisational values and cultural diversity," Mr Deora, who is leading the Indian delegation to the meeting, said.

He said the November 26, 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai was a grim reminder of the transnational nature of terrorism. and had evoked widespread condemnation from the world community.

"The time has come to adopt a policy of zero tolerance to terrorism. The SCO has made progress in the area of counter-terrorism and anti-drug trafficking measures. We have sought a mutually beneficial association with the Regional Counter Terrorism Structure based in Tashkent and are ready to complete the required formalities. We should also move towards early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism," he said.

Mr Deora said India was now in the fifth year of its asociation with the SCO as an Observer State. "These years have been eventful and satisfying," he remarked.

He said India was happy that the engagement of Observer States in SCO was progressively on the increase and hoped that this would continue to the mutual advantge of both Member and Observer States.

Mr Deora said the recent G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh underlined the fact that a collective and inclusive approach was the best and probably only way of addressing the challenges facing the world today.

He said most of the SCO members were developing countries which had, in varying degrees, been adversely affected by the global financial and economic crisis.

"The crisis began in the heart of capitalist world but its effects have been felt across the globe. However, thanks to the policies and programmes adopted by the Government with the support of the people, the effect was marginal in India. The need to revive the global economy is a complex challenge, requiring efforts from all of us," he said.

According to him, the SCO could play an important role in such a scenario by strengthening the linkages between us in the areas of trade, business exchanges and investment, as well as by adopting mutually reinforcing monetary and fiscal policies.

He said sectors like energy, infrastructure, agriculture, banking, transportation, science and technology and education offered opportunities for substantive cooperation, adding that India would be happy to participate in these activities.

Mr Deora also stressed the need to ensure stability and predictability of world energy markets. Pointing out that SCO was a unique forum which had a mix of both energy producing and energy consuming countries, he said its member-countries could make an effective contribution towards a cooperative framework for ensuring energy security.

In this context, he said India hoped to see the SCO Energy Club take concrete shape and become a forum of discussion among SCO countries in this critical area.

"As a close neighbour, we wish the Shanghai Cooperation Organization all success in its diverse activities. There is a lot to be gained through strengthening connectivity between the SCO and India," he added.

The SCO was founded in 2001 and brings together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia are "observer" countries in the grouping.

The main thrust of SCO's discussions are on security in Central Asia, terrorism, drug trafficking and related issues. In recent years, the discussions have also focussed on strengthening economic and cultural cooperation in the region.

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Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez to visit India October 13-15

File photo of the Argentinian President Cristina Fernández.
File photo of the Argentinian President Cristina Fernández.

Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez will pay a State Visit to India from October 13 to 15 during which she will hold talks with the Indian leadership on ways of renewing and carrying forward the bilateral relationship to a higher level.

Dr Fernandez will be accompanied on the visit by a high-level delegation including the country's Foreign Minister and a large team of businessmen.

The two sides are expected to sign several agreements during Dr Fernandez' visit in areas such as sports, science & technology, industrial research, hydrocarbons, trade promotion and business visas.

An official press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said the visit was being made at the invitation of President Pratibha Patil.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold discussions with Dr Fernandez while Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna will call on her.

On October 15, Dr Fernandez will visit Agra and Mumbai, the release said.

The release said that the visit is taking place during the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Argentina.

This will also be the first Presidential visit from Argentina in 15 years; the last visit was by President Carlos Menem in 1994. The last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Argentina was in 1995 by Mr Narasimha Rao for the G-15 Summit.

According to the release, India and Argentina traditionally share friendly and close ties. Bilateral trade has been increasing steadily in recent years; it has reached $ 1.3 billion in 2008 from $ 694 million in 2003.

Of this, India's exports totalled $ 492 million and imports were valued at $ 836 million in 2008. Indian exports to Argentina consist mainly of organic chemicals, engineering goods, auto parts and synthetic fibres. Its imports from Argentina are mainly edible oils - soya oil and sunflower oil.

The release said Indian companies had made investments in the IT, pharmaceuticals, agro-chemicals and mining sectors in Argentina. The total Indian investments in Argentina are about $ 119 million.

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Rao says Kabul blast handiwork of those opposed to Indo-Afghan friendship

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said that Thursday's suicide bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul was the handiwork of those who were desperate to undermine Indo-Afghan friendship.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said that Thursday's suicide bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul was clearly the handiwork of those who were desperate to undermine Indo-Afghan friendship and do not believe in a strong, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan.

Ms Rao, who reached Kabul yesterday on a two-day visit to review the situation arising out of the attack, emphasised, on behalf of the Government of India, that the scourge of terrorism must be resolutely opposed, resisted and overcome thorugh undiluted commitment and effort by the international community.

"The international community and, indeed, the people of Afghanistan face a clear and present danger from the perpetrators of such wanton acts of terrorism and their patrons residing across the border," she said.

The blast killed at least 17 people and left around 80 others injured. No Indian was killed or seriously hurt in the blast However, three men of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), posted to Kabul to guard the Embassy, were slightly injured by flying shrapnel.

Ms Rao extended her heartfelt condolences to the families of those Afghan nations who lost their lives in the "cowardly" attack, particularly to the families of the two Afghan security personnel who died during the attack and whose presence of mind and alertness prevented what could have been a far greater tragedy.

She expressed her deep concern and revulsion over the attack which she said was so clearly aimed against the people of India and the people of Afghanistan and their abiding friendship.

During her visit, Ms Rao met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Dafdar Rangeen Spanta and National Security Adviser Zalmai Rassoul.

An official statement said the Afghan leaders conveyed their deep sorrow over the attack on the Indian Embassy and assured her that the Government of Afghanistan would do all in its power to expeditiously investigate the "dastardly" attack and bring to justice the perpetrators and those behind the incident.

According to the statement, the Afghan leaders were unanimous in ther view that the attack was carried out by elements from outside Afghanistan seeking to damage the excellent relations that exist between India and Afghanistan.

Ms Rao reiterated India's unwavering commitment to pursuing the bilateral development partnersip and assisting the people of Afghanistan in realising a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country.

The Foreign Secretary also inspected the Chancery premises and its surrounding areas to make an on-the-spot assessment of the devastation caused by the blast.

She met the officers and staff of the Embassy, including the members of the ITBP contingent, and complimented their bravery, resoluteness and dedication for working unflinchingly under such trying circumstances.

She assured them that the Government would take all possible measures to ensure their safety, security and welfare.

Thursday's blast was similar to the suicide bomb attack near the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7 last year, in which more than 40 people, including four Indians, were killed and 140 others injured.

Among those killed in last year's attack were Defence Attache Brig Ravi Datt Mehta and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer V Venkateswara Rao, who was working as the press counsellor in the embassy. Two officers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Ajai Pathania and Roop Singh were also killed in the blast.

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Nirupama Rao in Kabul to take stock after blast

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao reached Kabul on Friday to review the situation arising out of Thursday's suicide bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy there which killed at least 17 people.
File photo of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao
File photo of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao flew in to Kabul today to review the situation arising out of yesterday's suicide bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital which killed at least 17 people and left more than 80 others injured.

No Indian had been killed or seriously hurt in the blast, which occurred at 0827 hours local time yesterday. However, three men of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), who have been posted to Kabul to guard the Embassy, were slightly injured by flying shrapnel.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sources told NetIndian that Ms Rao had decided to visit Kabul after the blast to review the security measures in place for Indian nationals and Indian missions in the strife-torn country. She will visit the Indian Embassy and see for herself the damage caused to the outer wall, the watch towers and some windows and doors of the building by the blast.

Among others, she is expected to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

As was reported yesterday, the blast took place at a spot very close to the Afghan Interior Ministry and Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad, who had visited the ministry yesterday, said he was shocked to see the damage caused to the building.

Ms Rao had told mediapersons here yesterday that the attack clearly appeared to be aimed against the Indian Embassy from the manner in which the suicide bomber came to the outside perimeter wall of the Embassy in a car loaded with explosives and blew himself up.

She said the intensity of today's blast was similar to the suicide bomb attack near the gates of the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital on July 7 last year, in which more than 40 people, including four Indians were killed and 140 others injured.

Among those killed in last year's attack were Defence Attache Brig Ravi Datt Mehta and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer V Venkateswara Rao, who was working as the press counsellor in the embassy. Two officers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Ajai Pathania and Roop Singh were also killed in the blast.

Ms Rao said that, after that attack, the Government of India had taken extra and very stringent measures to protect Indian personnel and the Embassy in Kabul. She said those measures had worked very effectively to prevent a tragedy similar to last year's attack from happening yesterday.

Yesterday's suicide attack came just a day after the Foreign Secretary had called upon the international community to put effective pressure on Pakistan to implement its stated commitment to deal with terrorist groups within its territory, including the members of Al Qaeda, Taliban’s Quetta Shura, Hizb-e-Islami, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other like-minded terrorist groups.

In her concluding address at the International Seminar on Peace and Stability in Afghanistan: The Way Ahead on October 7, Ms Rao said there was a growing understanding that the increase in terrorist actions in Afghanistan was linked to the support and sanctuaries available in the contiguous areas.

She said that explained the particularly high-level of violence in the border areas of Afghanistan and was, perhaps, the reason why the United States Administration unveiled its new Af-Pak strategy on March 27 this year.

The Foreign Secretary's remarks were also significant against the background of India's demand that Pakistan bring to justice the elements based in Pakistan who were responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, in which about 180 people were killed.

"When we speak of recommitting ourselves to helping Afghanistan defeat the forces that seek to destroy all that has been achieved since 2001, it is important to recognize that all of us have an abiding interest in the success of this endeavour," she observed.

Ms Rao said India and Afghanistan shared a strategic and development partnership based on historical, cultural and economic ties.

"We have an abiding interest in the stability of Afghanistan, in ensuring social and economic progress for its people, getting them on the track of self-sustained growth and thus enabling them to take their own decisions without outside interference. The binding factor in our relationship is that the interests of Afghanistan and India converge," she pointed out.

She detailed the efforts being made by India for the stabilisation of Afghanistan through a focus on development.

"India remains fully committed to assisting our Afghan partners in the process of reconstruction, and economic and human resource development, as they build a prosperous, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan," she added.

Ms Rao provided to the conference details of India's $ 1.2 billion assistance programme for Afghanistan that is being implemented in close coordination with the Afghan government and is spread all over that country.

"They straddle all the socio-economic sectors of development: humanitarian; infrastructure; small and quick-gestation social projects; and skills and capacity development. India is the sixth largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan," she explained.

Among other things, India has five medical missions providing treatment and free medicines to over 1,000 patients every day, most of whom are poor women and children.

India continues to support the Indira Gandhi Centre for Child Health in Kabul. Last month, the centre was connected through a telemedicine link with two super-speciality medical centres in India.

The one million tonnes of food assistance pledged in 2002 is used for providing 100 grams of high-protein biscuits to two million of the six million Afghan school-going children, a third of whom are girls.

In January this year, the Pul-e-Khumri--Kabul power transmission line and a sub-station at Chimtala were inaugurated. As a result, Kabul now has round-the-clock electricity supply for the first time since 1992.

India is currently engaged in the construction of the Salma Dam on the Hari Rud River in Herat and the Afghan Parliament building. Both projects are expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

The two sides have simultaneously commissioned around 100 Small Development Projects, which are quick gestation, smaller-scale social sector projects in outlying and frontier provinces, conceived and executed by local authorities.

India is providing 675 scholarships each every year to undergraduate and graduate Afghan students for courses in India and for Afghan public servants to train in Indian public training institutions for upto 180 days.

These are the largest such programmes that India has for any other country and the largest among the skills and capacity development programmes offered to Afghanistan by its development partners, Ms Rao pointed out.

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Ban Ki-Moon condemns suicide blast in Kabul

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today strongly condemned the suicide bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul this morning that reportedly killed 17 people and injured another 80.

The spokesperson for Mr Ban said he "strongly condemns the senseless attack that took place in Kabul today, in the vicinity of the Indian Embassy and the Afghan Ministry of the Interior."

Mr. Ban offered his "deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and his best wishes for a swift recovery to those that were injured."

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Mr Kai Eide, also issued a statement deploring the attack, the fifth such explosion in the capital since August.

"I express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims," said Mr. Eide.

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Tharoor seeks more investments from the Gulf states

Minister of State for External Affairs 

Shashi Tharoor meeting with the Crown Prince of Dubai Shiekh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum on October 

6, 2009.
Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor meeting with the Crown Prince of Dubai Shiekh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum on October 6, 2009.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has sought a more substantial participation from the Gulf states in the next wave of India's economic and social development in which the nation planned to move forward on the basis of massive investments in its infrastructure, energy and industrial sectors.

Speaking on "Doing Business with India--the Next Wave" at the FT Executive Dinner Forum in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Dr Tharoor said India would make huge investments in its human resources through upgradation of its institutions of primary education and higher learning.

He said the country also planned to increase its electricity generation by 700 per cent by the year 2043.

"It is in this context that India extends to all of you here a hand of partnership, and invites you to participate with us in the new phase of development and prosperity on which we have embarked," he said.

Dr Tharoor said the Government had taken a few practical steps to improve the environment for investments by setting up one-stop facilities and ensuring the greater involvement of business associations. He said an Investment Advisory Council to address problems faced by investors.

He also advised investors to explore the joint venture route to achieve success in India. He said Indian states were competing with each other to attract investments.

"Foreign investors should be conscious of the differences between states and incentives offered by different states to attract investments," he said.

The minister said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Gulf region as a whole were rich in financial resources and in technological capabilities and expertise.

He said the UAE as a country and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as an economic grouping were aleady India's number one trade partners. He said India's trade with the UAE touched $ 44.50 billion last year and with the GCC it was $ 87 billion.

"We now see the UAE and the GCC as our premier investment partners as well, so that we can, through our joint effort, build up the projects and institutions that will transform the face of India. I see this as an 'extraordinary adventure' since, before our eyes, we will see the most significant transformations in our geographical landscape and in the quality of life of our people," he said.

"Given the long history of our fruitful interaction, this new engagement to which I have invited you is but one more step in the mutually beneficial relationship that has bonded our people over several millennia, but it promises, in its implications, to be more extraordinarily transformational and fruitful than any interaction that has gone before," he added.

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India, Saudi Arabia agree to increase cooperation in tourism sector

The Vice-President for Investment, Saudi 

Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, Dr. Salah K. Al-Bukhyyet greets the Minister of State of Tourism, Sultan 

Ahmed, at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 06, 2009.
The Vice-President for Investment, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, Dr. Salah K. Al-Bukhyyet greets the Minister of State of Tourism, Sultan Ahmed, at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 06, 2009.

India and Saudi Arabia have agreed to step up their bilateral cooperation in the tourism and hospitality sectors, especially with regard to ways of increasing tourism in both the countries.

This was decided during a meeting that Union Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed, who is currently in the kingdom on a four-day visit during which he met Dr Salah K Al-Bukhyyet, Vice-President for Investment, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

During their meeting, the two sides decided to finalise an international executive programme for cooperation in the tourism sector.

Mr Ahmed offered India's vast expertise to augment the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia and to train and enrich the human resources in the sector. The two sides also discussed exchange of personnel to learn from each other in managing and maintaining heritage sites.

There was a proposal that, in the long run, India could set up a full-fledged management-cum-training institute for training Saudi youth in the hospitality sector.

Both sides agreed that these issues would be discussed further during the next meeting of the Indo-Saudi Joint Commission on October 31 in Riyadh.

The Dubai-based Goverment of India Tourist Office (GOITO) has organised an "India Tourism Road Show" in Riyadh to coincide with Mr Ahmed's visit. The show has a special segment on medical tourism, which is of immense interest to people in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Ahmed is leading a large delegation that includes officials from the Ministry of Tourism and tour operators. They will meet officials of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, make presentations and attend a buyer-seller meet.

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Bahrain backs India's candidature for UNSC seat

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor with Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa in Manama on October 5, 2009.
Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor with Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa in Manama on October 5, 2009.

The Gulf state of Bahrain has backed India's candidature for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for 2011-12.

During discussions with visiting Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor in Manama yesterday, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohamed al Khalifa also reiterted his country's position that India's permanent membership of the UNSC would be a stabilising influence in the whole region.

India, on its part, committed its support for Bahrain's candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC in 2026-27.

Dr Tharoor, who was on a two-day visit to the Gulf state, was received by Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, who said that both countries enjoyed relations deep-rooted in history and that Bahrain recognised India's growing importance.

Indian expatriates are an integral part of the island-nation and Dr Tharoor thanked Shaikh Khalifa for being host to hundreds of thousands of them working there.

He said that, in addition to existing elements of bilateral relations, both sides needed to work towards strengthening their ties by enhancing trade and investment.

During the discussions with Shaikh Khalid, the two sides agreed that they would work for realising the visit of King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa to India at the earliest possible mutally convenient dates.

They also agreed to work towards enhancing the pace of negotiations for concluding the India-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement.

The existing mechanisms of Foreign Office Consultations as well as the Joint Committee on Economic and Technical Cooperation will be activated at the earliest, they decided.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor with Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa in Manama on October 5, 2009.
Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor with Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa in Manama on October 5, 2009.

Dr Tharoor also met Industry and Commerce Minister Hasan Abdullah Fakhro, Labour Minister Majeed al Alawi, Social Development Minister Fatima al Balooshi and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar al Baharna, an official press release added.

Dr Tharoor later left for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the second and last leg of a five-day trip to the Gulf region.

Photos: Courtesy Bahrain News Agency

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Tharoor calls for greater cooperation between India, GCC

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor today said India and the member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) needed to build upon the newer opportunities and potentials that exist between them in the economic, political and strategic areas.

"From the strategic point of view, India and the GCC share the need for stability and security in the region," Dr Tharoor said while speaking on "Expanding Horizons of Cooperation between India and the GCC" at the Bahrain-India Society in Manama.

Dr Tharoor arrived in Bahrain earlier today at the start of a five-day visit to the Gulf region that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"The common political and security concerns of India and the GCC translate into efforts for peace, security and stability in the Gulf region and South Asia. The emerging common threat perceptions create further opportunities for GCC-India cooperation in the future," he said.

He said the anti-piracy drive in the region was symbolic of an extensive and functional multilateral cooperation.

"The critical space for India to play an increasingly pro-active role is widening. It is in this context that India and the GCC States can create many opportunities for mutual benefit," he said.

According to him, although GCC-India cooperation has expanded, it was not enough and the two countries must work jointly to expand it further.

Among others, the event was attended by Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammad al Khalifa and former Labour Minister Abdulnabi al Sho'ala, who is now an Adviser to the Bahraini Prime Minister and also the Chairman of the Bahrain-India Society.

India's relations with the Gulf States are part of Dr Tharoor's ministerial responsibilities. "It is also an area of work which is close to my heart and I propose to dedicate my energies to see it prosper and grow," he said.

Dr Tharoor said he was convinced about the oneness of the peoples of India and the Gulf states and that anything but close and friendly relations would be an aberration.

He said the Gulf region had a special place in India's external interactions as well as its internal dynamics.

"For India, the Gulf region is an important source of energy and is home to over 4.5 million Indians. The Gulf’s rich resources and the growing demands of India’s rapidly expanding economy make us partners for our mutual benefit. The Gulf region is a major trading partner and the emergence of Bahrain and the GCC countries as a major investment partner of India is but a matter of time. I deeply appreciate the manner in which Bahrain has emerged as a financial hub and nerve centre. Bahrain has great potential to partner financial cooperation with Indian financial institutions and we should strive towards building more such linkages," he said.

Dr Tharoor spoke about how India had been able to withstand the global recessionary trends and said it reflected the resilience of the Indian economy and its strengths.

He said the country was expected to return to a high growth path of close to eight per cent in the next fiscal year.

"The principal challenge before us is to ensure that we re-attain a high economic growth rate every year for the coming two decades to bring prosperity to the masses at large. Two most important pre-requisites in this regard for us are energy security and development of infrastructure. We also need to expand electric-power production 6 to 7 times between now and 2032 to energize our growth requirements. These challenges call for a robust national effort to obtain the resources required to meet these targets. It is here we see the foundation of India’s new terms of engagement with the Gulf region," he said.

Stressing that India was one of the safest investment destinations in the world, offering some of the best returns, he hoped GCC states would increase their investments in the country.

Pointing out that India had, for several years now, obtained the bulk of its crude requirements from the oil-rich Gulf, he said India and the region would remain long-term partners in the energy sector.

He said India would like to encourage mutual investments in each other's energy sectors. "Indian companies could participate in exploration and development projects in the Gulf while companies from GCC countries could invest in India’s down-stream and petro-chemicals sector," he suggested.

Dr Tharoor said trade in goods and services between India and the Gulf was expanding rapidy and exceeded $ 87 billion in the last financial year. The export of foodstuff constitutes an important part of India's export basket and the country had become a reliable supplier of food products to the Gulf countries.

"I thus see India’s requirement for energy security and that of the GCC countries for food security, as opportunities that can work to mutual advantage. We could even think of third country agro-projects where Indian expertise in agriculture could be used to ensure food security for GCC countries," he said.

He said a Free Trade Agreement between India and the GCC, currently being negotiated, would complement their ongoing and rapidly expanding bilateral economic engagement.

He hoped that the 2nd Indo-Arab Investment Conclave to be held in February next year would attract enthusiastic participation from the region. The 4th India-GCC Industrial Conference would be held in the same month in Riyadh.

Dr Tharoor also said that the recent exchange of high level visits between India and the GCC states, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Qatar and Oman and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari's visit to Kuwait, had helped to strengthen the relationship at the political level.

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India elected 2nd Vice-Chair of G-24 countries

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was elected as the Second Vice-Chair of the G-24 countries at a meeting of the group in Istanbul today.

Mr Mukherjee was the Finance Minister in 1982-84 in the Indira Gandhi government when India last held the chair in G-24.

He would automatically become the First Vice Chair in 2010-11 and then in 2011-12 he would be the Chair of G-24 countries, an official press release said.

Brazil took over as the Chair of the group today and South Africa as the First Vice Chair. This means that all three positions are held by the three members of the IBSA group (India, Brazil and South Africa).

The Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four on International Monetary Affairs and Development (G-24) was established in 1971. Its main objective is to concert the position of developing countries on monetary and development finance issues. It consists of the countries from each of the three regions – Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia:

Member countries are as follows:

Region I (Africa): Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Region II (Latin America and the Caribbean): Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

Region III (Asia and developing countries of Europe): India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Syrian Arab Republic.

Countries that are members of the G-77 are welcome to attend G-24 meetings as Observers while the People's Republic of China enjoys the status of "Special Invitee" and addresses the plenary sessions of the G-24.

The G-24 operates at two levels - the political level of Ministers of Finance / Central Bank Governors and the level of officials designated as the Deputies. There are three office-bearer countries: the Chair, the First and Second Vice Chair, representing the three regions and constituting the G-24 Bureau. An elected country takes up the Second Vice Chair position for the first 12-month period, becomes First Vice Chair the following year and assumes the Chair in the year thereafter.

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