India hopes to widen engagement with battle-torn Syria in key areas of counter-terrorism, including a strong intelligence sharing mechanism, to counter the threat posed by Islamic State when Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Walid Al Moualem arrives here on Monday on a four-day visit.
Talks are also likely to focus on measures to enhance business and energy ties, given India’s significant investments in Syria’s oil sector.
Al Moualem’s visit comes at a time when talks facilitated by the US and Russia to resolve Syria’s five-year-old conflict have gained momentum. This is the first visit to India by such a high ranking Syrian leader since the civil war between the Bashar al-Assad regime and its opponents began in 2010.
Delhi has not played any role of a mediator in the crisis but as a strong proponent of a Syrian-led process to end the conflict, it is keen to benefit when normalcy returns in that country, highly-placed sources told ET.
Syria has deeply appreciated India’s support at the UN Security Council since the crisis erupted, sources recalled.
In 2013, Delhi twice hosted Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban for a de-bfrief on the crisis. The ongoing political dialogue, situation in Syria, Iraq and the greater West Asian region will figure prominently at the dialogue during Al Moualem’s visit, sources said.
Expansion in bilateral ties, particularly in the field of security and counter-terrorism, has been necessitated by the rise and threats posed by the Islamic State, which has its headquarters at Al Raqqah in Syria.
Even as the Syrian government has stopped issuing visas to Indians with an eye to control movement of radical youth to the theater zone, few Indians from the Gulf have reached Syria to join the terror group from third country, informed sources pointed out.
Al Moualem and his Indian interlocutors, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, will discuss means to expand security partnership, particularly strong intelligence sharing mechanism to counter threats from IS, sources said. Syrian government sources pointed out that Delhi and Damascus have been sharing information on the terror in the region.
It is also hoped that Damascus will be able to provide leads into the 39 Indians who were abducted by IS from Iraq in 2014 and remain untraceable so far. Sources said the abducted Indians may be used by the terror group in non-combat affairs.
It is understood that Al Moualem will also hold meetings to enhance business and energy ties, including India’s presence in Syria’s hydrocarbon sector, adding momentum to the ongoing projects and helping in exploring new ones.
India has two significant investments in Syria’s oil sector. In 2004, ONGC and IPR International signed an agreement for exploration of oil and natural gas near Deir-e-Zor in northern Syria. In 2005, China’s largest state-owned energy firm CNPC and ONGC’s overseas arm, ONGC Videsh, jointly bought a 38% stake in Syria’s Al-Furat Petroleum Company, which owns 39 oil and gas fields. ONGC Videsh, however, had to stop its operations due to sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union on the Syrian oil sector.