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Syrian president to make maiden India visit

world Updated: Jun 12, 2008 14:35 IST

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travels next week to India on a maiden visit and the first by a Syrian head of state to the South Asian nation in 20 years, officials said on Thursday.

The official Tishrin newspaper said that Assad would discuss with Indian officials "bilateral relations and topics of interest to the two friendly nations."

Tishrin said the visit would take place "next week" and that Syrian first lady Asma Assad would be part of the trip.

Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari said that Syria and India would signs agreements to combat double-taxation and to bolster investments and energy cooperation.

In December 2005 India and China won a joint multi-million-dollar bid to buy Petro-Canada's 37 per cent stake in Syrian oilfields to feed their oil-hungry economies, prompting US objections.

Over the past years Syria has signed several oil and gas deals with foreign companies and launched tenders for exploration in both sectors in a bid to boost its dwindling energy output.

Assad's visit to India will be his first since he was propelled into power on the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in June 2000 at the end of an iron-grip rule that lasted three decades, and the first by a Syrian president since 1978.

Tishrin hailed the "historic relations" between Damascus and New Delhi and India's "support to Arab rights, namely Syria's demand for the return of the Golan Heights," which Israel conquered in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

Syria and Israel announced last month that they have opened indirect peace talks brokered by Turkey after an eight-year freeze over the fate of the Golan.

Assad's visit also comes as inspectors of the UN atomic energy agency are due in Syria on June 22-24 to visit an alleged nuclear facility in a remote desert area.