Foreign policy engagements to keep PM busy in February

Foreign policy engagements to keep PM busy in February

Modi is set to visit Seoul and host Israeli Prime Minister

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Seoul in February to receive an award from an NGO, a visit that is one of several high-profile foreign policy engagements expected next month, before the country heads for general elections.

A bilateral visit to Bhutan has also been discussed, but not confirmed yet. Planning is also on for a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Delhi in the next few weeks, official and diplomatic sources confirmed. Israel is scheduled to hold general elections on April 9 and India is expected to start its election schedule in April as well.

Sources working on the Korean visit said its “exact contours are still being worked out”, but the Prime Minister is expected to make a short trip to the Republic of Korea (RoK, or South Korea) towards the end of February. This will be his second visit to Seoul after May 2015. The trip will also follow the bilateral visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-In to India in July 2018. In October 2018, the Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation announced that it would award Mr. Modi with its annual Peace Prize. The foundation, that has a selection committee comprising 1,300 Korean academics and former diplomats, has selected German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and former Czech President Vaclav Havel in the past for the honour.

While the award ceremony is linked to the Prime Minister’s visit for bilateral talks, officials said the Foundation was not linked to the South Korean government.

“The Foundation that awards this prize is totally independent, and even the government (of South Korea) learnt about the award only after the announcement, so they are not connected,” Ambassador to India Shin Bong-Kil told The Hindu in an interview last November.

High profile visit

Meanwhile sources confirmed that a visit to India from Israeli Premier Netanyahu is “likely”. On Tuesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the visit is being arranged in “the second week of February”, linking the recent visit of Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to India as an indicator that a “major Arms Deal” was on the agenda.

Officials said there was no date yet confirmed for the PM’s visit to Bhutan. Mr. Modi had been expected to travel during the celebrations to mark the golden anniversary or 50th year of the establishment of India-Bhutan ties which ends in February 2019, but has not yet been able to find a suitable time. Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering had visited Delhi in December, and repeated the invitation.

The visit to South Korea and the yet-to-be scheduled trip to Thimphu, would take the number of trips to foreign countries (including some of them more than once) by Mr. Modi in his current tenure as Prime Minister (2014-2019) to 94, equalling the number of trips Dr. Manmohan Singh had made in his entire tenure as Prime Minister over two terms (2004-2014). Along with the possible big-ticket incoming visit, it will ensure that February will be a busy month for South Block.

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