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September 24, 2000
India for lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq
Ashok Tuteja in Dubai
India has called for immediate lifting of United Nations sanctions against Iraq, saying they had proved to be counter-productive and affected the common man.
''India has been and is against any sanctions and we tried to convince all bilaterally and multi-laterally, even at UN forums, that sanctions against Iraq must be lifted,'' Minister of State for External Affairs Ajit Kumar Panja told Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadhan, at a meeting in Baghdad on Saturday evening.
Describing his 35-minute meeting with the Iraqi leader as ''very cordial'', Panja told UNI over the telephone from Baghdad, ''We have also expressed concern to the Iraqi-vice president over the humanitarian situation in Iraq, particularly the high mortality rate among women and children.''
Panja, who arrived in the Iraqi capital on Saturday, leading an Indian delegation comprising officials and business representatives, met Iraqi Minister of Trade Mehdi Mohammed Saleh and Minister of Industry and Minerals Adnan Abdul Majeed Jassim, besides Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He will meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a confidant of Hussein, and ministers of transport and communication, agriculture, health and oil on Sunday.
The Indian minister told his Iraqi interlocutors that New Delhi supported Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. India stood for regional stability of the Gulf, Panja said, describing the region as ''an extended neighbourhood of India''.
He also clarified to the Iraqi leaders that India's relations with Israel were not at the cost of New Delhi's ties with any other nation.
India highly valued its relations with the Arab world and would not take any step that would undermine this historic relationship, he assured the Iraqi leaders.
The Indian minister recalled the meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Iraqi vice-president at Durban on the sidelines of the Non-Alligned Movement summit in 1998. That meeting became a turning point in bilateral relations and led to the setting up of a joint business council between the two countries, he recollected.
Panja, who had paid an official visit to Kuwait in July, described Iraq and Kuwait as ''extremely friendly countries", adding ''we want stability in the Gulf so that no third country can take advantage of the situation in the region".
On bilateral economic co-operation, Panja emphasised India's economic potential and stressed the need for a larger share for New Delhi in the UN-approved oil-for-food programme in Iraq.
He pointed out that India's share in the oil-for-food programme at three per cent was extremely modest and that it was not consistent with the traditionally strong friendship and economic interaction between the two countries.
Panja's arrival in the Iraqi capital coincided with the landing of French and Russian planes in Baghdad during the past two days, carrying humanitarian aid for the people of the sanction-hit country, virtually challenging the UN embargo.
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