India is seeking to boost cooperation with sanctions-hit Iraq, the head of a major Indian delegation visiting Baghdad said Sunday, September 2, after talks with President Saddam Hussein and several ministers.
"India is determined to follow up on cooperation with Iraq in various fields despite the unjust embargo imposed on the country," said Najma Heptullah, deputy speaker of the upper house of India's parliament, quoted by the official INA news agency.
She was speaking after Indian MPs, businessmen, writers and filmmakers had held talks with at least nine ministers, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Finance Minister Hekmat Al-Azzawi.
The 85-strong delegation, received on Saturday by Saddam Hussein, was to fly out of Baghdad on Sunday evening. Heptullah delivered the Iraqi leader a message from Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on "ways of boosting cooperation."
"Iraq wants to promote its economic and trade relations with India and increase imports from the country" in the framework of the UN-supervised oil-for-food program, Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammad Mehdi Salah said.
Heptullah said the delegation's visit to Baghdad "was witness to the solidarity of the Indian government and people with Iraq to lift the embargo" slapped on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990.
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, which prompted the conflict. 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.
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. India imports nearly 70 percent of its oil needs, with its oil import bill last year totaling $17 billion.
According to Indian officials, the volume of trade between Iraq and India has already reached more than $500 million under a UN exemption to the sanctions. 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. — (AFP, Baghdad)
© Agence France Presse 2001
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