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Sinha focus on Arab angle

New Delhi, Sept. 24: India will try to assess the view of key players in the Arab world on the situation in Iraq and the likely impact in the region if Delhi were to send troops to the war-ravaged country.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will hold the first-ever political dialogue with the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday.

The six-member council, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman will be represented by secretary-general Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah.

The meeting will help Sinha find out the views of the Gulf countries on Iraq and gauge how they will react if India sends troops to join the US-led stabilising effort.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who stopped in Turkey on way to New York, has already assessed the mood in Ankara.

In November, he is scheduled to visit Syria, another neighbour of Iraq.

Though the Centre continues to hold that it will decide on sending troops to Iraq only after an “explicit UN mandate”, the US is keen that India commit its forces. Indications are that a decision will be taken only after the November Assembly elections in five states.

Friday’s meeting is “exploratory” and will not be limited to Iraq. But it will help India get inputs on the situation from key players in the neighbourhood.

Another important issue likely to come up at the meeting is the situation in West Asia. Sinha will try to reassure the Arab world that an agreement to jointly fight the “scourge of terrorism” with Israel does not necessarily mean a dilution of Delhi’s stand on Palestine or its leader Yasser Arafat. Sinha will stress that India remains committed to the Palestinian cause and continues to regard Arafat as the symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

The meeting has no fixed agenda and Sinha and al-Attiyah are likely to have a freewheeling discussion, exchanging views on issues of mutual interest and concern.

The foreign minister might brief the council on the situation in South Asia and the status of India-Pakistan relations. But the main purpose of the political dialogue is to consolidate the relationship.

It will also give the two sides an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the business summit that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is planning with the council in Mumbai in February next year.

The Gulf region is described by India as its “extended neighbourhood” and is of extreme strategic importance. At least 3.5 million Indians are working in the Gulf and send home over $6 billion as remittance every year. The two-way trade between India and the council members is worth over $10 billion and the area is the main source of energy for India.

India traditionally has cordial relations with the six members of the council, who are key players in the Arab and the Islamic world. But high-level visits between Delhi and the Gulf capitals have been few and far between. Though there is a strong economic content in the relationship, an attempt is now being made to strengthen it at the political level by putting in place a structure that will allow an annual summit between the two sides.

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