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Israeli PM begins historic India visit

The first ever visit by an Israeli PM to India is expected to forge a strategic bond and bolster defence ties between the two nations.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2003 01:54 IST

As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in New Delhi with a 150-strong contingent on Monday, officials of both countries struggled through the night to negotiate an Indo-Israeli joint statement to be issued at the end of the visit.

Sources say besides the issue of Palestine, there were some differences on the wording of the statement and on the broad definition of terrorism. There was also a difference of perception between India and Israel over the role of Yasser Arafat in the current peace process.

While the Israeli leadership is in favour of expelling Arafat and propping up a new Palestinian leadership, New Delhi wants Israel to have a more balanced approach. "We have to respect their sensitivities but we can't condemn our traditional friends," a source said.

However, New Delhi is clear that it wants to use this visit to build a strategic relationship with Israel and will not let irritants endanger it in any way.

Earlier in the day Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that Indo-Israeli ties will get a boost. "Our relations will be further strengthened by his visit," Vajpayee said. "We have taken a principled stand on the issue of Palestine."

Senior officials say that it is a win-win situation for both the countries from the visit. While India stands to strengthen its defence and security apparatus, Israel gets the platform of the biggest democracy in the world which offers a huge market and is regarded a strategic player in the region.

In 2002, trade between the two countries grew by 41 per cent despite a deep recession in Israel and fall in its global trade. Israel became India's second-largest trading partner in Asia and there was a 44 per cent growth in Indian exports in the first half of 2003. There are already 170 joint ventures between Indian and Israeli companies.

Senior Cabinet ministers, officials and CEOs of Israeli defence companies are part of Sharon's delegation.

First Published: Sep 08, 2003 22:00 IST