KATHMANDU: India today told Nepal that the new government is very keen to impart "renewed momentum" to their multifaceted bilateral ties even as the two countries decided to step up cooperation in key areas of defence, security, trade and and hydro power.
As India makes efforts to deepen its diplomatic and economic engagement with its neighbours, visiting External Affairs Minister Minister Sushma Swaraj met Nepal's top leaders including President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. Swaraj also met UCPN-Maoist chief and Leader of Opposition Prachanda.
The Nepalese leaders said the "historic opportunity" in taking bilateral ties with India to the "next level" must be seized by both the countries.
Swaraj is in Kathmandu to co-chair the meeting of the Indo-Nepal Joint Commission which was held today after a gap of 23 years and to prepare the ground for the two-day official visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from August 3 – the first visit by an Indian Premier in over 17 years. The late Prime Minister I K Gujral had visited Nepal in 1997.
Describing Swaraj’s meetings with Nepalese leaders as "very fruitful and satisfying", the Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin said her principal message during all the engagements was to emphasise that the new government in India was very keen to impart "renewed momentum" to the multifaceted bilateral ties.
"In all her meetings she said India considers Nepal to be a matter of high priority in our Foreign policy. We desire to nurture this relationship with regular exchanges including with high-level political engagements," he told reporters.
The Nepalese leaders during their meetings with Swaraj expressed their "happiness" and "excitement" over the initiative taken by India to bring new momentum in ties and said they have high expectations from the forthcoming visit of Modi.
Swaraj, who arrived here yesterday, is on on her second stand-alone visit to a neighbouring country after Bangladesh within two months of assuming charge. Modi's first foreign trip after assuming office was to Bhutan.
"In general if I have to encapsulate the views, there is a lot of excitement in Nepal about India’s intention to reengage and reinvigorate the relationship. They are all looking forward to Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit and all feel that this is a historic opportunity to move to the next level in terms of our engagement with each other," Akbaruddin said.
Asked about her meeting with Prachanda, he said it went like a dream but did not give much details.
The JCM meeting, which was co-chaired by Swaraj and her Nepalese counterpart Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, decided to set up an eminent persons group to identify new areas of cooperation and suggest measures to help both the countries seize all possible opportunities.
Both the countries have agreed to the terms of reference for setting up of the Eminent Persons Group, government sources said.
Both India and 10-nation grouping ASEAN had set up an eminent persons group to identify areas of cooperation which was like track II diplomacy. The JCM also specifically deliberated on issues relating to defence and security and agreed to expand cooperation. The overall sense of the deliberation was that "security of both the countries was interwined".
Swaraj co-chaired the JCM along with her Nepalese counterpart Mahendra Bahadur Pandey as a range of bilateral issues were deliberated upon and decided to push for intensifying cooperation in diverse areas. Swaraj met Prime Minister Koirala at his official residence in Baluwatar. Koirala sought India's help and goodwill as Nepal moves forward on the path of development by drafting a new democratic Constitution.
"The Prime Minister has asked for India's cooperation, goodwill and support as Nepal moves towards democracy, political stability and development by promulgating the new Constitution," Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Advisor Dinesh Bhattarai said.
Swaraj wished for the good health of the Prime Minister. Koirala has just returned home from New York after spending nearly a month for treatment of his lung cancer. During her meetings, Swaraj conveyed to the leaders that India was "steadfast" in its support to the people of Nepal and hoped that all sections will work together for an "inclusive Constitution" whose "ownership" is accepted by all and it accommodates desires of everybody.
"Her principal focus was that India welcomes that all political parties in Nepal are working together. We are steadfast in our support for Nepal in these efforts. Our best wishes are with the people, the Constituent Assembly members for early promulgation of an inclusive Constitution in the time frame that Nepal has itself set," Akbaruddin said.
The Constituent Assembly of Nepal is in the process of framing a new Constitution.
Swaraj also met Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subas Chandra Nembang and a number of Madhesi community leaders who apprised her about their problems.
The Nepalese leaders conveyed to Swaraj that there are high expectations from the forthcoming visit of Modi and some of them felt that it was beginning of a new chapter in the bilateral relationship.
The essence of their view was that there was a promise to "change landscape" of the bilateral relationship.
Akbaruddin said Modi will again come to Nepal in November to participate in the SAARC summit. "The Prime Minister of India will visit Nepal within two and half months or less then that after having assumed office.
This is despite the fact that he is also scheduled to come here again on a multilateral visit for the SAARC summit in November," the spokesperson said.
"The External Affairs Minister's view was that both India and Nepal are now at a stage where we can herald a new chapter in our mutually beneficial relationship," Akbaruddin said.
Articulating the government's efforts to improve ties with Nepal, he said the new government decided to revive the Joint Commission as soon as it assumed power in India.
"The External Affairs Minister who has completed exactly two months today (in office) decided that amongst her earliest visits would be to Nepal. We have a Parliament in session and therefore she decided that despite Parliament being in session she would over the weekend would make a visit to Nepal to highlight the importance India places on our relation with Nepal as a priority area," the Spokesperson said.
On enhancing cooperation, he said there is huge scope to expand ties in trade, investment and in the hydro-power sector.
Asked whether the new government resolved to improve ties with neighbouring countries to counter influence by China, he said India has resolved to improve relations with China as well as with all the countries in the neighbourhood.
On the delay in certain projects by India in Nepal, Akbaruddin said though some of them could not be completed on time, there are efforts to remove the hurdles. He said India will launch new projects in the country as well.