February 17, 2020
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'We Don't Need An Asian Axis'

The Indian Foreign Secretary was in Moscow last week where Moscow and Delhi announced the beginning of trilateral talks among India, Russia, and China.

'We Don't Need An Asian Axis'
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This interview took place on September 10.

Sergey Strokan, Kommersant : This is your third visit to Moscow this year. Your last stay here coincided with the beginning of the Iraq war, because of which the Iraq issue dominated at the talks. What issues have been discussed during this visit?

Kanwal Sibal : This time our consultations took place two weeks before opening of the next UN General Assembly in New York. This largely predetermined the agenda of the talks I conducted with FM Igor Ivanov and his deputy Vaycheslav Trubnikov. On the eve of discussions in the UN we synchronized our positions on many issues including Iraq, Middle East, the last year's initiative of conducting trilateral meetings India-Russia-China, and new Russian-Indian summit planned for November of this year.

Sergey Strokan, Kommersant : UN draft resolution on Iraq has become a highly controversial subject. What is Delhi's attitude to the resolution and what role can India play in restoration of Iraq?

Kanwal Sibal : I would like to clarify something first. We are not members of the UNSC, and that's why we are not able to influence the process of working on the new resolution. At the same time, being a member of the international community, India cannot be unconcerned by what is happening in Iraq. We firmly believe that the key role in restoration of Iraq should belong to the UN. Just like the Russian side, we think that the situation in Iraq is rapidly becoming worse, which demands collective efforts of the international community to normalize life in Iraq. We are prepared to contribute to restoration of the infrastructure and solving humanitarian problems. For instance, in association with Jordan we are building a hospital in Najafe. In addition to that, we announced about giving $20 mln for restoration of Iraq and delivery to the country 50 metric tons of wheat.

Sergey Strokan, Kommersant : Let's speak frankly. Americans don't need your wheat in Iraq; they need your troops to relieve them from their burden. Is it possible that under certain circumstances Indian troops will be sent to Iraq?

Kanwal Sibal : I think it's too early to ask this kind of question.

Sergey Strokan, Kommersant : You mentioned the initiative of conducting trilateral meetings among India, Russia, and China. What is it, a new triangle of force or new Asian axis?

Kanwal Sibal : Let us not use such an expression. This understanding is of another era. This approach is not applicable here. The talk is not about creating an axis of power or a 'triangle'. The basis for such a relation is that substantial population; resources and potential belong to India, Russia and China - the major powers in the world. Therefore, with some key areas if we begin to synchronize our positions, it allows each of us to achieve much more. It is important to note yet another aspect, all the three countries are interested in improving relations with the United States. Hence all the talk that this is an axis of power or friendship against some one is misplaced.

Sergey Strokan, Kommersant : You already have reminded us about the November meeting of President Putin with Prime Minister Vajpayee. What are the areas that need more attention and which are the priority tasks?

Kanwal Sibal : Trade and economic relation is the area, which needs more attention. Just for comparison, our trade with China few years ago was USD 200 million, which now has grown up to USD 6 billion dollars. Bilateral trade of India with the United States, a strong economic partner, is USD 26 billion. Bilateral trade with Russia is USD 1.2 billion dollars, which is as much as our trade with Sri Lanka. We have a very strong cooperation in the field of defence, which is a very important area of cooperation, but should not be the only field. The task in front of us is to take our bilateral trade (from rupee - rouble) to a freely convertible currency, simplify custom procedures, develop transport corridors, create of banking channels, allow faster and effective transfer of funds etc.

As far as new areas of cooperation are concerned then - fight against international terrorism is one of them and during the meeting of two leaders this area will assume a significance place.

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