M A I N   N E W S

Israeli troops must pull out, says Vajpayee
M.K. Razdan

Damascus, November 15
Paying a significant visit to the volatile West Asian region, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today assured the Arab world that India fully supported the Palestinian cause and early restoration of sovereignty to the people of Iraq, which is next door to Syria facing American sanctions.

Accused by Washington of being a “rogue nation” with ties to terrorist groups, Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad welcomed the stand of Vajpayee, who also told him that Israel should withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities as well as other occupied lands, including this country’s Golan Heights.

The 38-year old Syrian President and the veteran Indian statesman, 40 years his senior, reviewed the situation in Iraq and the rest of the region and held extensive talks on the second day of the visit by an Indian Prime Minister to this country of 17 million in 15 years.

The wide-ranging talks were followed by signing of as many as nine documents by the two countries including those covering cooperation in technical areas, IT, agriculture and science and technology. Vajpayee announced a line of credit of 25 million US dollars to Syria as well as a million-dollar grant for the Syrian bio-technology centre.

Travelling to the Arab world in the holy month of Ramazan, Vajpayee later attended an Iftar banquet hosted by Assad, a trained eye doctor, who found himself in his late father Hafez al Assad’s chair three years ago when the groomed successor his brother Basil, died suddenly — almost a repeat of the events in India when Sanjay Gandhi died and Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister.

Addressing the disquiet in the Arab world about India’s growing ties with Israel, Vajpayee made it clear in an interview carried prominently by a Syrian daily today that India had not and would not dilute its ties with Arab countries. New Delhi has a long history of friendly relations with Arabs “while it had normal state-to-state relations” with Israel, he said.

The Syrian leader, who is under immense pressure from the US and Israel, was appreciative of Vajpayee’s condemnation of last month’s Israeli attack on a perceived terrorist camp just outside Damascus and thanked the Indian leader for that.

The situation in neighbouring Iraq, which has adversely affected Syria, was among the prominent issues discussed by Vajpayee and Assad and the two agreed that the sovereignty needed to be reposed in the Iraqi people as early as possible.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha was asked by reporters as to how the US, which has imposed sanctions on Syria, would view this stand and he responded by saying that a matured nation would be concerned over such issues only if it impinged on the relationship with that country. This was true of Indo-Israel or Indo-Arab relations, he said. — PTI


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