India's growing defence ties with Israel have not caused concern in the Arab world, says a top diplomat, even as he restates New Delhi's commitment to the Middle East peace process and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
In an interview with Arab News, Chinmaya Gharekhan, India's special envoy to the Middle East, spoke on a wide range of issues including his close ties with Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat, Kashmir and Pakistan's support of cross-border terrorism, India's ties with the US and Iran, the trans-national Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, and UN reforms.
He also hoped Saudi Arabia would support India's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.
Asked whether he had noticed any uneasiness in the Arab world about India's growing defense ties with Israel, Gharekhan replied: "Nobody has mentioned this to me. Nor did I notice it.
"Yes, we have this relationship (with Israel). And I am not being defensive about it," he added.
Noting that it was India's sovereign right and duty "to do whatever is necessary to protect and further our national interests", Gharekhan said: "The governments and leaders that I spoke to in the region have not expressed any reservations about India's having this kind of relationship with Israel."
At the same time, he admitted there may be some "sections of public opinion" that might be spreading "disinformation" about India's relationship with Israel.
"I am sure the people of this country (Saudi Arabia), as well as other Arab countries, will and do appreciate that governments have to do everything necessary for the protection and promotion of their independence and national interests," Gharekhan said.
He also noted that the Palestinians as well as the Israelis "certainly feel very happy that we have good relations" with them.
"I have made it very clear to the Israelis that our growing relationship with them is not at the expense of our commitment to the Palestinian cause. They have no difficulty with that," the envoy stated.
In this context, Gharekhan noted that since India supports "the inalienable rights of the Palestinians, we want to explore what India can do, if anything at all, in pushing forward the Middle East peace process".
Asked about the timeline for creating an independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, Gharekhan replied: "You can't afford to be a pessimist. One has to keep hope alive; most of all, the Palestinian people do. If they give up hope, then there is nothing left for them except maybe more violence."
"But as of now, everyone tells me - and I cannot go against the considered Arab assessment - that there is a window of opportunity. There is a set of circumstances in today's world that gives us some reason to expect something good," the envoy added.
Even so, India was "saddened" by the infighting among the Palestinians, terming this a "serious setback.
"Palestinians should realize that their strength lies in unity. They should support Abu Mazen and his leadership and persuade Hamas to give up its ideology of violence," he maintained.
Gharekhan also defended India's growing ties with the US, saying that a country's foreign policy "cannot be based on sentiments or emotions.
"Foreign policy is a hard-headed, calculated game. Some people in India have not got used to this sudden shift. As professionals, however, we ought not to have any permanent attachments. If we think having good and close relations with the United States is in our interest, we will do that. And we are doing that," he said.
Gharekhan also heaped praise on Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Had it not been for Arafat, the Palestinian cause would never have been at the centre of things today. The fact that everybody, including the president of the United States, recognizes that Palestine is the core issue is all thanks to Arafat."
Of Abbas, the envoy said: "I know him and have dealt with him over the years...He is a self-assured leader, a very confident leader. He certainly knows how to proceed. And so, more strength to him."
On Kashmir, Gharekhan said: "A lot of progress has been made...But of course, there is always the problem of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan continues to support that. Funding and financing of cross-border terrorism is going on even as we speak."
On ties with Tehran, Gharekhan said: "We have excellent relations with Iran. No problem there."
Questioned why India voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he said this was "because that is the way we thought we should vote.
"We know that Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and as a signatory to it, Iran must fulfil its obligations and commitments. And we expect Iran to fulfil its international.
On the three-nation gas pipeline, the envoy said "progress" was being made on the issue.
"India needs energy from all sources. Nuclear energy is one alternative that we are going to tap further as a result of our civilian nuclear agreement with the US. We need oil, we need gas. We are making progress on the pipeline issue," Gharekhan said.
On UN reforms, the envoy said: "You can't have a Security Council with the same 15 members for 40 years. Its membership hasn't changed but the world has changed. And so has the balance of power."