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Assad stresses look east policy as Indian minister visits Syria for first time in 7 years

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (center right) meets with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan in Damascus, Syria, July 13, 2023. (Photo by SANA)

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan has paid an official visit to Syria, a first by an Indian minister in several years, in an apparent sign of New Delhi engaging with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Muraleedharan arrived in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday for a two-day visit. It came on the heels of Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad's visit in 2022 to New Delhi, where he held talks with Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Muraleedharan's trip is the first by a high-profile Indian diplomat in seven years and comes after Syria’s return to the Arab League more than a decade after its membership was suspended by the 22-member regional organization. Arab government representatives in Cairo voted on May 7 to return Syria to the League after a 12-year suspension.

All 13 of the 22 member states that attended the session endorsed the decision. However, there is still no Arab consensus on normalization of ties with Damascus. Several governments did not attend the meeting. Among the most notable absentees was Qatar, which continues to back the so-called moderate opposition groups against the Assad government.

On Thursday, Muraleedharan met with Assad, where the Syrian leader expressed his country’s interest to expand ties with New Delhi.

Assad highlighted that Syria has adopted an eastward foreign policy approach, emphasizing that the shift is due to friendly economic and political relations between Damascus and Asian countries, including India, and Asians’ commitment to values and principles.

The president described relations between Syria and India as deeply-rooted, praising India’s stance vis-à-vis developments in the Arab world and its unwavering support for Syria demonstrated earlier this year, when a devastating earthquake struck the northwestern part of the country.

Assad also underlined the need for establishment of close relations among Asian states in order to play an effective role in the new multi-polar world order, stressing that the West, as part of attempts to exercise its hegemony, is provoking conflicts worldwide.

Muraleedharan, for his part, extended friendly greetings of Indian President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Syrian president. He said relations between New Delhi and Damascus are constantly developing despite all challenges.

“We are keen to maintain bilateral cooperation, especially in medical and educational sectors, for the benefit of Syrian society. This also includes the economic field,” the Indian minister said.

Separately, Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous met with Muraleedharan, where the two sides discussed promotion of economic relations.

Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous (R) meets with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan in Damascus, Syria, July 13, 2023. (Photo by SANA)

Arnous said Damascus was keen to further develop economic and trade ties with New Delhi, particularly in barter transactions, calling for greater role of businessmen to serve the common interests of both countries. He underlined the need for Indian companies to participate in the reconstruction projects across Syria, pointing to the remarkable experience these companies have.

In turn, Muraleedharan hailed India-Syria relations and stressed the need for promotion of ties in the fields of economy, banking, science, technology, and infrastructure.

The Indian minister called for concerted efforts in order to address the challenges that impede enhancement of bilateral cooperation, praising Syria’s victory over terrorism. He said India is ready to contribute to Syria’s reconstruction, economic progress, and will offer all kinds of support to the Syrian nation.

Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Mekdad received the visiting Indian minister.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (center right) meets with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan in Damascus, Syria, July 13, 2023. (Photo by SANA)

Mekdad hailed India’s outright rejection of all forms of terrorism, and its unwavering support for Syrian people through all harsh conditions they have gone through.

The top Syrian diplomat said Damascus expects a principal role for New Delhi in the multi-polar world order, as India respects the sovereignty of other states and refrains from interfering in their domestic affairs.

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