Stepping up ties with the energy-rich Middle East, home to a six million-strong Indian diaspora, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Sunday begins a whirlwind four-day visit of Jordan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine.
Krishna will hold talks with his Jordanian counterpart Sunday focusing on expanding economic ties between the two countries. The Middle East peace process will figure prominently in discussions in Amman and other capitals in the region that Krishna will visit during this trip, government sources said here Saturday.
The showpiece of the visit will, however, be Krishna’s talks with the senior Israeli leadership in Tel Aviv Monday.
This will be the first visit by an Indian external affairs minister to Israel in 11 years and coincides with the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv, Krishna will call on Israeli President Simon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hold extensive talks with Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The two countries are expected to sign an extradition treaty and an agreement on transfer of sentenced people that will boost security cooperation between the two countries, said the sources.
Besides the defence and economic ties, the major focus of talks in Israel, a leader in dry land farming technologies, will be on expanding cooperation in the area of agriculture.
India sees Israel as a crucial partner in its ongoing efforts to launch a second green revolution and to boost food security. The two sides are also expected to unveil a composite Indo-Israeli fund for spurring research and development across a spectrum of areas.
Expanding defence and counter-terror cooperation will also figure prominently in the talks. In recent years Israel has emerged as India’s second largest defence supplier after Russia.
After the trip to Tel Aviv, Krishna will travel to Ramallah to meet Prime Minister of the Palestine National Authority Salam Fayaad, and is expected to announce fresh aid for the development of the Palestinian territory. He is expected to reiterate India’s commitment to an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.
India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the statehood of Palestine in 1988 when it was declared.
Krishna concludes his visit to the region, which supplies over 60 percent of oil to India, with a stopover at Dubai where he is expected to explore fresh investment by the UAE into India.
The UAE, home to over 1.5 million Indians, is India’s largest trading partner in the region with a $67 billion bilateral trade.
The Middle East peace process will be a recurrent theme of discussions throughout Krishna’s visit. India, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is expected to stress on dialogue to achieve lasting peace in the region that directly affects its own energy and economic interests.
Krishna’s statements on the peace process will be watched closely as many countries have been pressing New Delhi to play a more proactive role in the region, given its strong ties with both Arab nations and Israel.