Indian delegation to Iraq to cement political, trade ties
A high-level Indian delegation to Iraq will cement trade and political ties between the two countries, a foreign office spokeswoman said Thursday, August 30. "We have been friends of long standing and have worked to strengthen our political and economic relationship," spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told a press conference. "This goodwill delegation is indicative of our political will to enhance that."
The 85-member Indian delegation, which leaves for Baghdad on Friday for the three-day visit, will be led by Najma Heptullah, deputy speaker of the upper house of India's parliament. It will include 21 members of parliament, prominent business people, writers and film personalities.
"India's relations with Iraq are rooted in history," Rao said. India opposed the multi-nation attacks on Iraq during the Gulf War a decade ago, although it did not support Baghdad's invasion of Kuwait. The Indian government has demanded the withdrawal of sanctions against Iraq, but has also urged the nation to comply with relevant UN resolutions following the 1991 Gulf War.
The delegation, sent by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, is likely to discuss the problems facing Baghdad amid the UN sanctions. Under a 1996 agreement, India has been importing oil worth $250 million a year from Iraq, which has been subject to UN sanctions since the Gulf War.
Iraq and India agreed to trade oil in exchange for wheat last year, with New Delhi giving 35,000 tons of wheat for its $250 million of Iraqi crude oil. India imports nearly 70 percent of its oil needs, with its oil import bill last year totaling 800 billion rupees ($17 billion).
According to Indian officials, the volume of trade between Iraq and India has already touched more than $500 million under a UN exemption to the 10-year-old sanctions against Baghdad. Baghdad has invited Indian companies to set up units in Iraq's free trade zones, while Indian investments are also sought in the telecom, transport and power sectors.
"The delegation has sought a meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein," Rao said. It will meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Tariq Aziz and the ministers for foreign affairs, health and industry, she added. –(AFP, New Delhi)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)