India ready to play part in overcoming global economic crisis: PM

New Delhi, June 15

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left here today on a three-day visit to Russia to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) Summits, saying that the country was ready to play its part in the international efforts to overcome the global financial and economic slowdown.

Dr Singh will meet world leaders on the sidelines of the two meetings, including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

"The countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) together account for 40% of the world’s population and 40% of global Gross Domestic Product. The BRIC grouping has the potential to lead global economic growth," Dr Singh said in a pre-departure statement.

"In fact, global economic recovery is closely linked to the success of the BRIC economies. India is among the fastest growing BRIC economies, and we are ready to play our part in coordinating international efforts to overcome the ongoing financial and economic slowdown," he said.

The Prime Minister said BRIC countries also had a role to play in promoting the principle of multilateralism in international affairs, and in the reform of institutions of global governance, including the United Nations, to reflect contemporary realities.

"From these points of view, the convening of the first stand-alone summit of BRIC countries is a significant development," he said.

India and Pakistan are observer-states at the SCO Summit that will be held tomorrow morning.

India has been attending the SCO Summit regularly since 2005, but only at the ministerial level. This is the first time that Dr Singh has decided to attend the meeting himself.

"My decision to attend the Summit is a reflection of the high regard we have for Russia’s Presidency of the SCO, and our desire to intensify our engagement with countries of our extended neighbourhood in Central Asia.

"There are issues which concern both of us, such as the fight against terrorism and extremism and cooperation in areas of energy security, infrastructure development, agriculture, transportation, science and technology and education. India and the SCO stand to gain considerably from each other through such cooperation," he said.

The Prime Minister said he also looked forward to meeting and exchanging views with the other world leaders who will be present in Yekaterinburg.

This is Dr Singh's first foreign trip after assuming office on May 22 for a second straight five-year term in office.

A major highlight of the visit will be the meeting he is expected to have with Mr Zardari tomorrow on the sidelines of the SCO Summit.

While no formal meeting has been scheduled between the two leaders, it is clear that they will come face-to-face at the Summit.

"They will be in the same room, at the same place, at the same time. I am sure they will be meeting but what sort of meeting it will be is very difficult to say because the time will be limited," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had said on Friday while briefing journalists on the Prime Minister's visit.

He said it was difficult to predict what kind of talks the two leaders would have, while making it clear that no structured meeting was in the offing, at least partly because of the paucity of time.

The interaction between the two will be their first after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives and which India blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

India has since then suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan and said the process could resume only if Pakistan took concrete action against those responsible for the attacks.

Last Tuesday, Dr Singh said in Parliament that India was willing to meet Pakistan more than half-way if Pakistani leaders created the right atmosphere for the resumption of the peace talks by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure aimed at India operating out of its territory.

Apart from shaking hands and breaking the ice, the two leaders are expected to talk very briefly about how to take things forward in the given circumstances.

There have also been reports that the United States has been pushing both countries towards early resumption of their talks. Last Thursday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns, who met Dr Singh and other Indian leaders in Delhi, told reporters that Washington would welcome such talks, but left the timing, pace and scope of such a dialogue to the two countries.

Mr Menon explained that, at its last summit in Dushanbe, the SCO had decided to raise the involvement of the Observer States to a qualitative new level. And this time, for the first time, the Observer States and the Member States will be meeting together in both a restricted format and then in an expanded plenary where they will discuss all issues together.

"It is a measure of how important we think the SCO is that the Prime Minister is going himself, also because we think it is particularly important that regional cooperation in Asia should be encouraged at a time when the world economy is under considerable stress and when there are major issues which need to be discussed at the summit level," Mr Menon had said.

The BRIC leaders will have a restricted meeting of the leaders tomorrow afternoon, followed by delegation-level talks. The four leaders are then expected to address the media together.

They are expected to exchange views on subjects such as the ongoing global economic meltdown, its implications for the world economy and for security, progress in the G-20 Summits, food and energy security, development and climate change issues and regional developments, Mr Menon said.

The SCO was founded in 2001 and brings together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia are "observer" countries in the grouping.

The main thrust of SCO's discussions are on security in Central Asia, terrorism, drug trafficking and related issues. In recent years, the discussions have also focussed on strengthening economic and cultural cooperation in the region.

Yekaterinburg is a major city in Central Russia, located on the eastern side of the Ural mountain range, and the main industrial and cultural centre of the region. With a population of about 1.3 million, it is Russia's fifth largest city. Between 1924 and 1991, the city was known as Sverdlovsk.

The Prime Minister is being accompanied on the trip by National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, his Principal Secretary T K A Nair, Mr Menon and other senior officials. He is scheduled to return home on June 17.

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