Patil arrives in Syria after ending visit to UAE

Damascus, Nov. 26 (ANI): Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil arrived on a four-day state visit to Syria on Friday afternoon after completing a successful five-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Mansoor Azzam, Syria's Minister of Presidential Affairs, received the Indian President at the Damascus International Airport.

President Patil will be in Syria from November 26-29 and is the first Indian head of state to visit the country.

Patil, who left on nine-day state visit to West Asia on Sunday, described Syria as an important country for India's energy security needs.

"In the second segment of my tour, I will be visiting Syria which will be the first Presidential visit from India. India and Syria enjoy traditionally friendly ties and cooperate actively in the UN and NAM," she told reporters on board Air India One.

"Syria has expressed support for India's permanent membership of the UNSC. India, too, on its part, has always supported all just Arab causes, and has consistently supported the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, which remains occupied by Israel since 1967," President Patil said.

The Indian President said her visit to Syria would focus on strengthening the economic and business aspects between the two countries.

"We seek to increase the level of our bilateral trade which stands at a modest 540 million dollars. As Syria intends to open its markets and embark on massive development, there should be plenty of opportunities for India to expand its economic links," she said.

"Syria is also important to us for our energy security. OVL already has investments there and is looking for more opportunities for oil exploration," Patil added.

In Syria, President Patil will hold talks with her counterpart Bashar al Assad, who visited India in June 2008. Meetings with Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri and the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament, Mahmoud Al Abrash are also scheduled.

During Patil's visit, officials of both sides will also explore investment opportunities in each other's country.

The Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) and Syria's relations with its neighbours will also be an important segment of the talks.

The President will address Indian and Syrian businessmen and launch the Syria-India Business Council.

Patil will also visit the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo, where many Indian scientists are doing commendable work.

India and Syria have ancient historical linkages dating back several millennia. Archaeological findings provide evidence of 4000-year-old trade links between India and Syria and there are linkages between the Mauryan Empire and the contemporary rulers in Syria.

The Gulf region is home to over five million-strong Indian diaspora and the visit of President Patil will boost India's multi-faceted ties with the West Asia region.

"I will also meet representatives of the Missionaries of Charity who are doing excellent work in Syria with older persons. I will be visiting AAMAL, a Syrian organization for the disabled managed by Asma Al Assad, the First Lady of Syria," she said.

President Patil"s visit to Syria will provide the opportunity to carry forward our dialogue and engagement with the Syrian President and the leadership of Syria in all areas. By Praful Kumar Singh(ANI)

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