Most SAARC leaders coming, Modi’s first bilateral meetings day after swearing-in

MAY 26: Nawaz may decide on invite today; moves afoot to invite Khaleda and Ranil too

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: May 23, 2014 8:43:34 am

Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi will have his first set of bilateral meetings with visiting foreign leaders on May 27, the day after his swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan, sources have told The Indian Express.
This will be his first diplomatic interaction with leaders from the neighbourhood.

The meetings are likely to last about 30 minutes each, during which the new Prime Minister will get the chance to have a “conversation” and “develop a chemistry” with the leaders of the SAARC countries, the sources said.

They said Modi will also host a banquet for the visiting leaders after the swearing-in ceremony on May 26. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, confirmed on Thursday that Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will attend the ceremony.

Until late on Thursday night, there was no confirmation on whether Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be here. A PTI report from Islamabad, quoting unnamed sources in the Pakistan foreign office, said a decision was likely to be made on Friday.

As reported by The Indian Express on Thursday, Bangladesh will be represented by Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be away on a pre-scheduled visit to Japan on May 26.

Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius too will be in Delhi, following the invitation extended to him by Modi during their conversation over the phone. Mauritius is home to a robust Indian diaspora, and is, because of its tax laws, the source of the largest quantum of FDI coming into India.

Ambassadors and high commissioners resident in Delhi will be invited for the ceremony, sources said. Sources in the BJP said attempts were also under way to have some major opposition figures from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Delhi for Monday’s ceremony. Leaders from the party were learnt to be in touch with Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and Ranil Wickremasinghe, leader of the Sri Lankan opposition.

PTI quoted an unnamed senior leader from Sharif’s PML-N as saying the prime minister wanted to normalise ties with India to promote commercial and business activities, but Modi’s invite had come at short notice, and a decision would be made in consultation with civil and military leaders.

“He is keen to improve ties which is also the official policy of the party, but he needs to take various aspects of the relations into consideration,” the leader told PTI.

Sherry Rehman, a former Pakistan minister and Islamabad’s former ambassador to Washington, tweeted, “It won’t change the game, not yet, but PM Sharif may start an imp(ortant) journey for India and Pakistan by accepting Modi’s invite for oath-taking.”

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