Bahrain Foreign Minister’s India Visit

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa was in India last month as a part of diplomatic drive to assure the Indian government about the security of Indians living there. He held detailed discussions with his Indian counterpart SM Krishna on issues of mutual interest, including recent developments in Bahrain and the region (March 30). Ahead of their talks, the two ministers laid stress on “traditionally friendly relations” between India and Bahrain, “which are based on historical and civilizational ties.” This “long standing relationship” is reflected by presence of a large Indian community in Bahrain.

During their meeting, over lunch hosted by India in his honor, Bahraini foreign minister gave “firm assurance” about “safety and security of Indian community” in Bahrain. He also appreciated their contribution to “progress and development of Bahrain.” There are around 350,000 Indians in Bahrain. Khalid drew Krishna’s attention to his having met more than 200 Indians in Manama on 26th March, 2011. On his part, Krishna thanked Khalid for his reassurance with regard to Indian community’s well being. The former also expressed confidence that “law-abiding Indian community would continue to be a partner in Bahrain’s growth story well into the future.”

Referring to recent developments in Bahrain, Krishna expressed the hope that “peaceful resolution of all issues through dialogue would pave the way for continued development and prosperity of friendly people of Bahrain.”

During an exclusive interview with this scribe, Khalid acknowledged: “There is no doubt a wave of transformation in the Arab world.” Accepting that winds of transformation were sweeping across the region, he pointed to the human development index in the six Gulf Coordination Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar – being much higher than that of other countries. In other parts of the region, the people on the lower end of the scale were vying for a change, he said. Referring specifically to Bahrain, he said that though sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias have prevailed for “around 1400 years,” they have taken such a major turn for first time, reaching the “stage of polarization.” “Sectarian turn is the biggest threat to whole region,” he said.

Laying stress that there was a need for “true transformation” in many parts of the area, Khalid expressed that this “movement” had been “hijacked and had taken a sectarian turn” between Sunnis and Shias. Expressing favor for a political dialogue to sort out the problem, he said: “Political dialogue would be way forward in future.” The priority at present was to maintain law and order, Khalid emphasized.

Refuting the impression generated about Bahrain taking help of Saudi forces to control protestors, Khalid said that these belonged to Peninsula Shield Force. “We take our security seriously,” he stated. The troops would stay as long as they were needed, he said. Khalid specified that their help was essential to prevent the tension from escalating into a civil strife. The situation was “under control,” he said.

A “very negligible” population had left Bahrain because of tension in the country, he said. Though certain elements’ aim was to scare the expat community, Indians were not targeted, he emphasized. “I am visiting India before Europe or America. This is more important. We are regional stakeholders. Without India, we do not have a solution. We need to reassure India about the Indian community in Bahrain,” the minister asserted.

Elaborating on security architecture in the region, Bahrain cannot envisage this without India, Khalid said. India’s Deputy National Security Advisor Vijaya Latha Reddy called on Khalid ahead of his meeting with Krishna. She discussed issues of bilateral interest with him.

Bahrain also favors a role for Pakistan as well as Iran. “We want Iran to be part of this security architecture. We want it to prosper and be as active as in the past as a responsible country in the region,” he said.

Without elaborating on diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran, Khalid categorically stated: “We are for good relations with Iran.” “The result of bad relations with a neighbor can be more lethal than that of a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran has been marked by the former holding latter as responsible for provoking Shia-Sunni tension in the region. Bahrain has warned Iran to keep away from “meddling” in its internal affairs. On its part, Iran has strongly criticized the arrival of external troops in Bahrain.

Bahrain is also not pleased with external strikes supporting rebels in Libya. When asked to comment on this, Khalid said that Bahrain had no objection to maintaining a “no-fly zone” over Libya. He was, however, skeptical about role of external strikes. “We were a part of the GCC and Arab League resolutions supporting no-fly zone. But we feel there is no clarity whether external strikes can really help in protection of people and their security.”

This was Khalid’s second visit to India. His visit, according to official sources, “has strengthened the excellent relationship between the two countries.”

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Korean President’s India Visit

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI:  Taking India’s ties with Republic of Korea (ROK) to a new height, the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations (January 26) was ROK President Lee Myung-bak. Lee’s India visit assumes significance as he is the first Korean President to be Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day function.  Besides, his is third Korean presidential visit to India in a period of less than 13 years. The discussions held and agreements reached during Lee’s visit clearly signal that both countries are optimistic about further strengthening India-ROK ties in several key areas.

Lee paid a state visit at the invitation of his Indian counterpart President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, from January 24 to 27. He was accorded a ceremonial welcome on January 25 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. This was followed by his meeting with Patil. The highlight of Lee’s visit was his summit meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Welcoming Lee, in his opening remarks at the delegation level talks, Singh said: “We are delighted that a friend of India is at the helm of affairs in Korea and that together we will have the opportunity to realize your vision and our common vision of a strong and vibrant India-Korea partnership. Your State visit today reflects our mutual commitment to strengthen relations between our countries. This is a relationship that rests on our shared values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human freedoms.”

Ahead of his India visit, Lee projected it as a key part of Seoul’s “New Asia Diplomacy” campaign, to improve ties with Asian countries. In his message, Lee said: “I have tried to realize the vision of New Asia Diplomacy. This trip to India marks a key point of such efforts.” He described India as a key player in Asia taking center on the global stage in the 21st century. “Asia is developing as a new growth engine in the world. Asia is expected to account for 35 percent of the world’s GDP (gross domestic product) ten years from now,” he said. “I am paying attention to India because of its potential,” Lee asserted.

With both the countries eager to push forward bilateral ties, during the summit meeting, Singh and Lee discussed ways to develop them and also exchanged views on regional and international issues. The joint statement released after the summit meeting, stated that during the talks, the two leaders “expressed satisfaction on the strong development of India-ROK relations based on the ‘Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,’ established in October 2004.” They “welcomed the steady growth in high level exchanges and contacts between the two countries, and the expansion in various areas of bilateral relations including defense, trade, science & technology, information & communication technology, education, and culture.”

Singh and Lee agreed that there was “immense scope for further enhancing bilateral relations in various areas.” They “welcomed entry into force of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)” from January 1, 2010 as “bedrock of a new comprehensive partnership between India and ROK.” With both countries as major economies in the region, their “partnership has the capacity to promote regional growth, and to contribute to prosperity and economic development of Asia,” they stated.

To enhance bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership,” Singh and Lee identified key aspects of their future relationship. These include, political & security cooperation; enhancing trade & investment flows; strengthening cooperation in field of science & technology; increase in cultural exchanges & people to people contacts;  and cooperation in the international arena. Affirming “their commitment to ensure implementation of CEPA,” they agreed to set a target of $30 billion for bilateral trade to be achieved by 2014. The India-ROK bilateral trade stood at $13 billion in 2008-09. Bilateral trade, which was less than $3 billion in 2001, crossed the $10 billion mark in 2007.

Singh and Lee agreed to designate 2011 as “Year of Korea” in India and “Year of India” in ROK to strengthen cultural exchanges and people to people contacts. India welcomed ROK’s initiative to open a Korean Cultural Center in New Delhi in 2011, which according to the joint statement will go a long way in “promoting awareness about Korean life and culture in India.”

Lee’s India visit was also marked by inking of four pacts. These include: Agreement on transfer of sentenced persons; Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in information technology & services; Program of cooperation in science and technology for the period 2010-2012 and MoU for cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Singh and Lee agreed “to facilitate development of a framework for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.” They shared the view that “nuclear energy can play an important role as a safe, sustainable and non-polluting source of energy.” Lee is understood to have told Singh that he was “very optimistic” about progress in this area and that ROK nuclear companies were “very competitive” on this front.

Civil nuclear cooperation figured prominently in the summit meeting and the talks Lee held with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. After his meeting with Krishna, Lee said: “This is (civil nuclear) an area which will be very productive for both of us.” A member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), ROK had supported consensus for reopening global civil nuclear trade with India in September 2008. Lee recently succeeded in marching ahead of western contractors by securing a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in UAE. While from the Korean-angle, Lee’s India-visit is a part of his New Asia Diplomacy, from the Indian it is certainly suggestive of India looking towards East more seriously than before!

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