SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA, SMT. PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE BANQUET IN HONOUR OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, H.E. DR. BASHAR AL-ASSAD
New Delhi, 18th June 2008
Your Excellency, President Dr. Bashar al-Assad,
Madame Asma al-Assad,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government of India, the people of India and on my own behalf, I warmly welcome Your Excellency and Madame Assad as well as your delegation to India.
Relations between India and Syria go back to the early years of recorded history. Our civilisational and historical links are well known and well documented. India and Syria had a flourishing exchange of trade, culture and knowledge through the ancient Silk Route. Indian folk tales, the 'Panchatantra', are well known in Syria and the Arab world as the 'Kalila wa dumna'. The 'Syrian' Christian Church is widely spread in Kerala and the thousands of pilgrims who perform 'ziarat' at the shrine of Sayeda Zainab and other holy places in Syria each year symbolize some of the close human bonds between our two ancient cultures. More recently, the great Syrian poet, Omar Abu Risheh, who spent many years as Syria's illustrious Ambassador to India, became Syria's window to India much like our own poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore in Syria.
These historic ties were given a new spirit following the successful outcomes of our struggles for independence from colonial rule. Our paths since then have converged in many areas, be it our developmental orientations or our commitment to secular polities and to the underlying principles of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Fifty-one years ago, the visit to Syria of India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, began a process of exchanges at the highest level between India and Syria. Your late father, President Hafiz al-Assad, who was much admired in India, paid a historic State Visit in 1978. We also recollect the visits to Syria by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and by Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee in 2003. Your presence here this evening marks a reaffirmation, at the highest levels, of the strong ties that have characterized the long and rich history of our cooperative relations as free nations.
Syria and India are ancient civilizations. As such, they bear great responsibilities in their respective regions and in world affairs. Your region was known throughout history as one where the varied trends of Arab thought and culture came together and flourished. We, in India, have always followed developments in your region with the attention that West Asia deserves. We remain committed to supporting all peaceful, negotiated efforts that will lead to just and lasting peace in the region, a peace that will result in the vacation of occupation, restoration of human dignity and mutual respect. For this reason, India continues to call for progress in the peace process on all tracks, including the Syrian track. We are contributing to peace in the region through our participation in United Nations peace-keeping missions in Lebanon and in the Golan Heights and through capacity building assistance for the people of Palestine. As Observers in the Arab League, we were present at the Arab Summit held under your Chairmanship in Damascus last March. We are confident that under your stewardship, there will be further progress towards peace in the region.
We look forward to intensifying our relations with Syria as we believe that our historical links are just as important to our peoples as our common endeavours in the path of modernization. India and Syria are nations with young populations. Many of the issues that confront our societies are common. It is fitting that we are embarking upon this renewal of ties as India continues on the path of accelerated modernization and Syria works towards reform and progress in several areas under your leadership. India would be happy to extend its support and work with Syria in mutually agreed areas of cooperation. We should increase our trade relations. Indian companies are interested in working in Syria in the IT, petroleum and fertilizer sectors among others. We should also promote people-to-people contacts through building links between our educational institutions, encouraging students' exchanges as well as cultural cooperation. The Agreements concluded during your visit will be important in taking our relationship forward.
I have no doubt that with your commitment to Syria's future, and the value that you attach to relations with India, your visit will contribute to the development of our relations in all fields for our mutual benefit. I wish Your Excellency and your delegation a comfortable stay in India.
Distinguished Guests, may I request you to join me in a toast to:
- the good health and personal well being of President and Madame Assad;
- the continued progress and prosperity of the friendly people of Syria;
- and everlasting friendship between India and Syria.