Syria had a lot of expectations from a "rising India" and looked forward to increasing trade with the country, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in New Delhi on Wednesday as he kicked off his five-day India visit.
The first Syrian head of state to be in the Indian capital in 30 years, al-Assad began his visit with a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan. His father Hafez al-Assad had visited India in 1978.
“We have a lot of things to talk about. There are a lot of expectations from a rising India,” the Syrian leader told reporters after inspecting the guard of honour. He arrived Tuesday evening, accompanied by his wife, four ministers and a business delegation.
He noted that increase in trade between the two countries would be on his agenda and looked for more cooperation in specific areas like telecom.
After the ceremonial welcome, al-Assad went to the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, where he laid a wreath.
Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee met the Syrian president at the hotel where the delegation is staying.
Late Wednesday morning, al-Assad began his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad House. Delegation level discussions are scheduled, as well as a one-on-one meeting.
At least two deals are expected to be signed after the talks - an agreement on avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation in the field of agriculture and allied sectors.
The Syrian president will address a business luncheon meeting organised by India's top three chambers of commerce and industry.
Later in the afternoon, he will meet Vice President Hamid Ansari, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition LK Advani.
President Pratibha Patil will host the official banquet in honour of the visiting leader at Rashtrapati Bhavan.