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Arab League proposes India forum

In a sign of warming ties, India and the Arab League propose to establish a permanent forum.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2006 11:20 IST

In a sign of warming ties, India and the Arab League propose to establish a permanent forum to institutionalise political, economic and cultural dialogue and set up an Arab Cultural Centre in New Delhi.

The details of the forum - on the lines of the Sino-Arab Cooperation Forum - will be discussed at a meeting between India and the 22-member Arab League in Cairo June 28, diplomatic sources said.

Rajiv Sikri, secretary (east) in India's Ministry of External Affairs, will lead the Indian delegation to the bilateral meeting that will also hold discussions on political, economic, cultural and multilateral issues, the sources added.

"The only forum that exists between the Arab League and another country is one with China. The forum covers areas like politics, economy, culture, education, health and sports," an Arab diplomat said.

"Since India and the Arab world enjoy centuries-old ties, we want a similar institutionalised mechanism for dialogue. The Arab world and India can jointly work in areas of mutual interest as we share common interests," he added.

On the issue of an Indo-Arab Cultural Centre, diplomatic sources said it would be different from the centre announced by Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh during his recent visit to Dubai.

Singh had said that the centre - housed at the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi with funding from the University Grants Commission - would bring India and Arab countries closer as they shared deep historical ties.

India, in fact, has already offered to build a cultural centre in the name of its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in Khartoum in Sudan at a cost of $10 million, said the diplomat, who because of protocol reasons cannot be identified.

In the economic sphere, India and the Arab League are working out modalities for the mutual promotion of trade and investment and cooperation among the various industry lobbies and chambers of India and Arab countries.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Arab League recently formulated an action plan for targeted collaboration in investment and trade relations between India and Arab countries that would also be discussed at the Cairo meeting, officials said.

Arab diplomats said that India's bilateral trade with Arab countries, not counting petroleum and fuels, stood at $11.7 billion last fiscal and that these countries as a group were India's third largest trading partners after the US and China.

Efforts are also on to cooperate in areas like globalisation, trade, investment, information technology, labour affairs, civil aviation, maritime transportation, pollution control and desertification.

On multilateral issues, a memorandum of understanding exists covering annual meetings between the Indian external affairs minister and the Arab League secretary general ahead of UN General Assembly meetings to discuss joint strategies.

"India's diplomatic opinion is also being sought on the Iraq situation, Darfur, Iran, the Middle East peace process and restructuring of the Arab League," a senior diplomat said.