India supports Palestinian cause

Times of India

November 15, 2003

DAMASCUS: Paying a significant visit to the volatile West Asian region, Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Saturday 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, the young 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 rest of the region and held extensive talks on the second day of the visit by an Indian Prime Minster 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 on Saturday that India has not and will 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.