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India hosts Turkey, Cyprus leaders in tricky balancing act

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-04-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: India will be performing a tricky diplomatic balancing act this week by playing host to the Turkish and Cypriot presidents whose countries do not see eye to eye.

The first to arrive, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, reached India on Tuesday and will be formally welcomed in New Delhi by President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday.

Anastasiades, whose country is a key investor in India, will also hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fresh from a narrow win in a national referendum that gives him sweeping powers as both head of government and head of state, will reach New Delhi on Sunday and hold talks with Indian leaders on Monday.

Erdogan’s visit comes soon after Indian vice-president Hamid Ansari visited Armenia, a country with which Turkey has had particularly delicate relations over the alleged killing by the Turkish Ottoman empire of 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century. Turkey refuses to accept that this was an act of genocide. Earlier this week, Ansari visited the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex in Yerevan, Armenia’s official memorial dedicated to the victims of the alleged genocide, where he paid homage to the dead.

“Normally the timings of visits are based on the convenience of leaders,” said Ruchi Ghanshyam, secretary (west), in the Indian foreign ministry, about the almost overlapping visits by the two rival leaders.

Turkey does not recognize Cyprus, and Erdogan is known to hold a hawkish position on the reunification of Cyprus whose northern part is under Turkish control.

However, both countries are members of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of which India would like to be a member. The visits to New Delhi by the two presidents come ahead of a NSG meeting scheduled for June.

While Cyprus supports India on its NSG candidacy, Turkey has backed a “process-based” approach and reportedly wants both Pakistan and India to be considered together.

Turkey has traditionally maintained good relations with Pakistan—a sore point with India.

Ghanshyam said the visits of both presidents are “state visits” which would include a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace and a state dinner.

Cypriot president Anastasiades has met Modi previously on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in 2015. Modi has held talks with Erdogan on the margins of the G-20 meeting hosted by Turkey in Antalaya in 2015.

“On many issues, the two countries (India and Cyprus) share similar views. India has extended unwavering support to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus,” Ghanshyam said, noting that the countries share similar views on a variety of multilateral issues such as UN Security Council reforms.

On economic issues, “Cyprus is a major investor in India with cumulative foreign direct investment of about $ 9 billion,” Ghanshyam said, which makes the island nation the eighth largest foreign investor in India. Pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, tourism and film production are potential areas of investment, she said.

Ghanshyam recalled Erdogan had visited India as prime minister in 2008. India’s bilateral trade with Turkey currently stands at $6.4 billion. She described the close Turkey-Pakistan ties as a “bilateral matter.” “We have always emphasized that India-Turkey relations stand on their own footing,” she said.

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