Accessibility links

Sharon Promises Closer Relationship with India - 2003-09-09


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has met Indian leaders for talks that focused on fighting terrorism and expanding bilateral relations. Mr.Sharon is the first Israeli prime minister to visit India since New Delhi established diplomatic ties with Israel 11 years ago. But, left-wing parties and Muslim groups held street demonstrations to protest the visit.

During day-long talks, Mr. Sharon and Indian leaders including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee exchanged views on terrorism, and discussed how to expand their already thriving bilateral and commercial ties.

Israeli officials say Israel has assured India of "utmost support" in combating terrorism, and offered to share the advanced technology it has developed to fight terrorism.

The Indian and Israeli leaders spoke optimistically about their relationship, which has grown dramatically in recent years - based on a common concern about the threat of terrorism by Islamic militants and India's increasing purchases of Israeli defense equipment.

At a reception at New Delhi's red sandstone presidential palace, Mr. Sharon said his visit will help strengthen his country's ties with India.

"We regard India to be one of the most important countries in the world," the prime minister said. "Democracy is really democracy - we can share our belief in democracy. We are very much interested to develop our relations."

Prime Minister Vajpayee described Mr. Sharon's trip as a "historic visit" that will give a new shape to bilateral relations.

But not everyone in India is welcoming Mr. Sharon. Muslim groups and left-wing parties held street protests in New Delhi, Bombay, and Kashmir.

New Delhi's chief Muslim cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, said Mr. Sharon's visit marked a "black day" for India.

Muslims fear the growing ties between India and Israel will hurt New Delhi's traditional commitment to the Palestinian cause and may lead to a potentially anti-Islamic alliance.

At a demonstration in downtown New Delhi, leftist activists shouted "Killer Sharon" and "Long live Palestine." The protests took place despite assurances by India's government that it supports the Palestinian cause.

India and Israel signed six agreements that ranged from enhancing cooperation in education, environment protection to combating illicit drug trafficking.

Israel is the second largest defense supplier to India after Russia - and Mr. Sharon's huge delegation, consisting of 150 people, includes the heads of major Israeli arms makers.

A sophisticated Israeli airborne early warning radar system is among the defense equipment India plans to buy from Israel. India also is seeking an anti-ballistic Arrow missile system.

Neighboring Pakistan is watching Mr. Sharon's visit closely. On Monday, Islamabad expressed concern about growing India-Israeli links, and warned that increasing defense cooperation between the two governments could destabilize South Asia.

XS
SM
MD
LG