The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mumbai, Taj on Sharon radar

New Delhi, Sept. 3: Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be the first international leader to visit Mumbai within a fortnight of the twin blasts that rocked India’s financial capital last week.

The Israeli leader’s main objective in Mumbai will be to address Indian businessmen and sell his country as an attractive investment destination. He is also likely to interact with the small Jewish community there and visit a synagogue in the city.

Sharon’s visit to Mumbai is all the more significant as one of the thrust areas of his five-day trip will be close cooperation with India to counter global terrorism. The first Prime Minister from Israel to touch Indian shores, Sharon’s tour also signifies the growing closeness and maturing ties between the two nations since they established full diplomatic relations nearly a decade ago.

The hardline leader, who will arrive here on Sunday but begin his main official interaction with the Indian leadership from September 9, will also go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Several agreements are likely to be signed during the visit with a possible formal decision on the sale of the Phalcon Airborne Early Warning and Control System. India has started negotiations with Israel’s Rafael to bring seven suits of electronic surveillance and counter-measure equipment worth $500 million for the navy. The deal may be initialled next week. A deal on cooperation on health and agriculture is also on the cards.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s visit will take place at a time when violence in West Asia has shown no sign of stopping and there are many who believe that it will continue till Israeli troops leave Palestinian land.

Some Left parties, opposed to Sharon’s visit, have threatened to organise protest marches in the capital during his stay in Delhi. They accuse Sharon of butchering innocent Palestinian civilians in the name of fighting “terrorism” and have expressed surprise that the government agreed to invite him when he is being accused by most of the outside world as standing in the way of peace in West Asia.

The government, though aware of the anti-Sharon sentiment, has decided to roll out the red carpet for the Israeli leader, who will be treated as an honoured friend. However, in a diplomatic balancing act, Delhi had invited Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath last week and assured him of continued support for the Palestine cause.

Sharon’s visit will start with a traditional welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt on Monday. Over the next two days, he will have detailed discussions with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and other leaders.

He would also address a business meet in Delhi which is being organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries.

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