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India, Syria to hold ministerial meeting

The Narendra Modi-led NDA government is also planning to offer a new line of credit to assist Syria in its rebuilding process, according to people aware of the matter.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jun 06, 2019, 08.18 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: India is planning a ministerial level joint commission meeting with war-torn Syria in Damascus in the near future, aiming to widen its strategic presence in West Asia amid tumultuous regional geopolitics less than a year after the meeting was postponed following the threat of war.

The Narendra Modi-led NDA government is also planning to offer a new line of credit to assist Syria in its rebuilding process, according to people aware of the matter. India’s line of credit to Syria in the past included support for power and steel plants.

Besides, India is eyeing a wider counterterrorism partnership and stronger information sharing mechanism given Syria’s experience in fighting ISIS, said one person. He told ET on condition of anonymity that India, which has supported the Assad government in its fight against ISIS, is seeking to relaunch its economic and soft power engagement with Syria.

Four hundred Syrian students are enrolled in Indian universities on fully funded scholarships, and India has also trained a batch of Syrian diplomats.

In the run-up to the proposed meeting, TS Tirumurti, secretary (economic relations) in the external affairs ministry, visited Damascus last month and met the entire Syrian leadership.

India has extended its strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, which has in turn supported India on the Kashmir issue in all international forums, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Syria believes India has the right to act as it deems fit following any cross-border strike. “The Syrian government fully appreciates India’s stand during the crisis period and wants to build on the relationship,” said another person.

Nearly 100 Indian companies participated in an industrial fair that was hosted in Damascus in 2018. Apollo International had modernised a steel plant under India’s line of credit facility of $25 million even under difficult circumstances, while Bhel is executing a project in Syria under another line of credit. Damascus is also willing to offer phosphate blocks to India in the Syrian desert zone.

The European Union has estimated that Syria would require $245 billion to revive its economy. India is eyeing major reconstruction projects across housing, power, textile and food sectors in Syria.

India had made two significant investments in Syria in the oil sector in the pre-conflict days. First, ONGC and IPR International signed an agreement in January 2004 for exploration of oil and natural gas in Block 24 near Deir ez-Zor in northern Syria.

Second, ONGC India and CNPC China invested in jointly acquiring 37% stake of Petro-Canada in the Syrian Al Furat Petroleum Company. The conflict and subsequent sanctions however slowed down ONGC’s operations in Syria. A team of ONGC Videsh visited Syria to assess the feasibility of the projects under consideration.

India has also set up centres for IT excellence and biotechnology in Syria.

The country is hoping to strengthen ties with Kuwait and Bahrain as well through high-level visits. Besides, India is hosting the India-Arab League foreign ministers’ meet, which was postponed earlier this year due to non-availability of suitable dates on both sides.

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