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PM Modi on a two-day historic maiden visit to UAE, to foster strategic cooperation with the region
PM Modi describes the UAE as a 'Mini-India'
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Modi said since he adored the UAE leaders for their bold vision and ability to understand the forces shaping the modern world, he had no right to give them a "message".

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is arriving in Abu Dhabi today on his historic maiden visit to the UAE, said he is keen to foster a strategic partnership, particularly in the security, energy and investment sectors, with the fastest growing Arab economy and its visionary and pragmatic leadership.

In an interview with Khaleej Times at his high-security official residence at Race Course Road on Indian Independence Day, Modi described the UAE as a 'Mini-India' close to his heart where all languages and dialects of his nation are spoken by the 2.6 million Indian diaspora.

Waxing eloquent as he spoke about what the two nations with deep historical links could achieve together, the Indian leader said he wanted to see the UAE as India's foremost partner in trade and investment as well as in countering terrorism.

Modi was confident that with an overall economic reform programme in progress, Indians in the UAE will find their home country an attractive, stable and secure destination for investment and savings.

Marvelling at the UAE's spectacular achievements, he described it as a paradise built up in a desert with unmatched vision and remarkable skill. Following is the interview:

You are the first Indian prime minister in 34 years to visit a country that has 2.6 million Indian residents. Do you think India unintentionally neglected the UAE in the recent past?

It is an anomaly that an Indian prime minister is visiting the UAE after 34 years. We have deep historical links and unmatched level of familiarity with each other. We are located close to each other. Religion, culture and commerce provide enduring links between us. We are both multi-cultural and pluralist societies today. We are now among each other's top three trading partners. No country has better air connectivity with India than the UAE. The 2.6 million Indian nationals here form an indelible human bond between us. In recent decades, the vision of the UAE leadership has taken this nation to the global forefront. India has emerged as one of the major global powers and a new frontier of the global economy. We have a range of common security and strategic concerns in the region, including terrorism and extremism.

So India and UAE have everything to be a top priority for each other. This is the way I look at the UAE. The Gulf region is vital for India's economic, energy and security interests. I have begun my regional engagement with the UAE. This tells you the importance that I attach to the UAE. We have resolved to sustain regular high-level engagement and build a strong and comprehensive strategic partnership.

Indians in the UAE send home over $10 billion as remittances. What can you tell them to assure that India will remain a rewarding investment and savings destination?

We are proud of our Indian community which is not only contributing to the progress and development of the host country, but also participating in the economic development of India through their remittances. I have no doubt that with the overall economic reform programme in progress, they will find India an attractive, stable and secure destination for their investment and savings.

The Indians abroad are proud and excited about the changes taking place in India. I see a new level of confidence in them about India; and a new level of desire to participate in India's transformation. I not only seek to encourage them to be part of India's success, but am also taking steps, both general and specific to them, to facilitate their travel to and participation in India.

India has had very good relations with every country in the Middle East and the Gulf. At a time when so much tension is built up in the region, what role a common friend like India can play?

India is uniquely blessed to have good relations with all countries in the region. Therefore, we are saddened and worried to see violence and instability in the region. I have always believed that regional or bilateral problems are best solved by the countries involved. We have often seen the consequences of outside interference. India has always abided by the principle of non-interference in other countries and has consistently supported dialogue as a means to resolve all issues.

I strongly believe that the problems in this region can only be addressed by the collective efforts and constructive engagement of all countries. Regional peace and stability is in the interest of all. I always advocate this approach to every country in this region and others who have stakes here. When we have such serious problems of terrorism and extremism as we see in the region, it is incumbent upon all nations in the region to work together to address this common threat to regional stability, peace and prosperity.

How do you view the Iran deal, as far as Indian economic and geo-political interests are concerned?

As with other countries in the region, India has close civilisational relations with Iran, which spans centuries. We have strong economic and energy interests in Iran. Iran is also important for India's connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia. We have always advocated a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue in a way that advances peace and stability in the region. We hope that the nuclear agreement will not be a cause of instability in the region, but will start a process of consultation and cooperation in the region that will enhance mutual trust and confidence, and lead to durable peace and stability in the region.

Where would you like India-UAE relations to be in the next five years?

As I said, I would like to see a truly comprehensive strategic partnership evolve between our two countries. I want to see the UAE as our foremost trade and investment partner. We want to work together in advanced areas of science and technology. We would build regular and effective cooperation in a full range of security challenges. Our armed forces would engage with each other more. We will work together more closely in international forums and in addressing regional challenges. We will nurture our cultural and educational links. There are no limits to our relationship. In short, in every walk of life, we should turn to each other as a matter of habit.

What are your thoughts on this historic trip?

I have been hearing about the progress made by Dubai for years. However, personally, I have never had the opportunity to visit the country. Although as prime minister, I am going to the UAE after 34 years, but personally this would be my first visit to the country. I have always thought, how this paradise could come up in a desert? What vision! What remarkable skill!

Secondly, after becoming prime minister, I have observed that globally, between countries, it is governments which first forge close relationships, and development of people-to-people contacts follows. However, in the case of the UAE, while India has close people-to-people contacts, there was a certain distance between the governments. I think this was a mismatch. From a diplomatic viewpoint, this just does not seem right. This must change. I am confident that my visit will be successful, and I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai for extending this kind invitation to me.

What is the key message you would like to give to the UAE leadership?

I certainly have no right to give a "message" to the Government of the UAE. First of all, this is the first visit by an Indian prime minister after 34 years. Secondly, I have never met the leadership of the UAE, yet have heard wonderful things about their vision, their capability and their ability to understand the forces shaping the modern world. I certainly have no right to give them any kind of message. But yes, I do wish for our friendship to deepen, and our relationship to broaden, and for India-UAE relations to evolve into a strategic partnership.

As far as the Indian community is concerned, the languages that are spoken in India, are all spoken in the UAE! In a manner of speaking, the UAE is a "Mini India". The Indian community has been embraced with such warmth in the UAE. The way the two communities work together represents a special bond. There are tens of thousands of such people there, who are connected with India every moment. I am sure that the world shall take note of the Indian community's contribution. This workforce has been there for the last 30-40 years. They have set an example for how an expatriate community can become a part of their resident country's development journey.

You have been to many countries since you became prime minister and met many Indian expatriate communities. Could you describe what is special about the Indian community in the UAE, and why you have chosen this time to come to the Gulf?

The entire world accepts that the 21st century will be Asia's. And the UAE has a special place in Asia. India is a big country in terms of numbers. If Asia is to rise, then India has the responsibility to bring all such powers in Asia together, and to work with them to make the Asian century a reality.

Secondly, earlier, the process of development was a challenge. Today, the form of development is a challenge in itself. Moreover, terrorism poses a grave danger to humanity. Therefore, all those countries who believe in humanity, must stand together without delay. This is extremely necessary to challenge the forces of terrorism.

As far as the timing of my visit is concerned, this is a question that would be asked of me irrespective of whenever I paid a visit. I adjust my schedule depending on the time available. Further, in the UAE, there is the added advantage that one can work on Saturdays and Sundays there.

Khaleej Times Associate Business Editor Issac John presenting a memento to Indian PM Narendra Modi.

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