Cairo, July 2 : U.N. reforms, energy cooperation and a review of overall bilateral ties and ways to enhance them further are expected to dominate the talks between visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit here today.
Delegations of the two countries arrived here this morning after an hour's flight from the Egyptian capital Cairo.
Both India and Egypt have enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship since 1955, when a Friendship Treaty was signed by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Mukherjee, who was received at the airport by India's envoy to Egypt A. Gopinathan and senior Egyptian foreign ministry officials, including Ambassador Tamer Khalil, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and head of the Asian Division late on Tuesday evening, reflected on the close bilateral ties between both countries during a refueling halt in Dubai, where he said his reciprocal visit, which was being undertaken by an Indian Foreign Minister after a gap of seven years, should be seen in the context of the many significant developments taking place in the Middle East.
Describing Egypt as an important player in the region, Mukherjee said India supported the Arab League's initiative in the Middle East, particularly with respect to Israel and Palestine, and added that India felt that an interaction with the Egyptian leadership at this juncture is important.
Commenting on bilateral economic ties, Mukherjee told ANI TV: "It is going well, because bilateral trade is worth about three billion U.S. dollars. Investments - If the pending projects are approved by the Egyptian leadership, then Indian investment in Egypt would be around two billion U.S. dollars up from the present level of around 700 million U.S. dollars. Therefore, the possibilities are there, but I feel the potentiality is immense."
His statement is borne out by the fact that since the 1980s, there have been three Prime Ministerial visits to Egypt (in 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi, in 1995 by P.V. Narasimha Rao and in 1997 by Inder Kumar Gujral). Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Harare (Zimbabwe) in 1996 and again on the sidelines of the G-15 Summit in Davos, Switzerland, in January 1997.
Active ministerial visits from Egypt to India have been taking place since 2000, and from India to Egypt since 2001.
Dialogue with Egypt has followed a structured format through meetings of the bilateral Joint Commission, which has met in 1985, 1988, 1997, 2001 and 2006. Foreign Office consultations between the two countries have taken place on seven occasions between 1999 and 2007. India's Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East peace process, C.R. Garekhan, visited Cairo in February and September 2007 and again in April 2008.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit visited India in the second week of December 2006. At that time, five agreements were inked, including a Partnership Agreement, an MoU on bilateral air services, a work plan on agricultural cooperation, an executive program on cultural exchanges and an executive program on cooperation in the field of science and technology.
In fiscal 2007, India was Egypt's fourth largest trading partner behind the United States, Italy and Saudi Arabia, and the largest importer of Egyptian goods in 2006 and 2007. A 51 percent growth in exports was witnessed in 2007 as compared to figures in 2006 (534 million dollars as opposed to 354.9 million dollars). Imports grew by 35 percent in the same period (1882.64 million dollars in 2007 as opposed to 1392.30 million dollars).
As far as discussions on U.N. reforms are concerned, Mukherjee said in Dubai that: " So far as India is concerned, we are firmly committed that the African continent has representation in permanent categories and non-permanent categories (in the U.N.)"mbassador Gopinathan had said earlier in an address to the Union of African Journalists in Cairo in May this year, that the "Delhi Declaration" and the "Africa-India Framework for Cooperation" announced in April this year, had clearly spelt out the aspirations of both the African continent and India vis- -vis their demand for U.N. reform, and their right to being members of the U.N. Security Council.
On the issue of energy cooperation and security, Mukherjee said that it is an issue that the international community has discussed earlier in both international and bilateral fora.When the two foreign ministers' meet, there will be an opportunity of sharing our perceptions, exchange of ideas, (and) how we can proceed further," he told ANI ahead of his meeting with Foreign Minister Gheit.
For the record, both countries are already benefiting from a bilateral investment protection pact, which has been in force since 2000. Apart from energy, the other key areas where cooperation has been active are communications, information technology, culture, science and technology and agriculture. By Ashok Dixit