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External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Maldives Mohamed Asim counterpart meet

Separate statements were issued on the two meetings, with India underlining its commitment to its "Neighbourhood First" policy and Male reciprocating with a reiteration of its "India First" policy.

Sources said Asim had reassured Swaraj that the Maldives would never act in any way which would harm Indian interests. Progress on these projects had been patchy until now.

Of late, China has been making significant inroads into India's periphery-securing a strategic port in Hambantota in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease, stitching together an alliance of Leftist groups in Nepal that made significant gains in the November-December polls, brokering a peace deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar over Rohingya refugees and signing the free trade pact with the Maldives. Modi agreed to visit Maldives "at a suitable time" as he affirmed that India would always remain a reliable and close neighbour of Male. Asim also invited Modi to Maldives, the only Saarc country which the PM has not visited until now. Male continues to maintain that it would soon like to have a similar agreement with India.

According to Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar, Swaraj and Asim "had productive discussions to strengthen bilateral relationship keeping in mind "India first" policy of Maldives and our policy of 'neighbourhood first". Both developments had irked India and prompted Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to raise India's concerns with the Maldives envoy in Delhi.

While India has been nursing a grievance against the Maldives for signing an FTA with China despite the "India First" policy, the counter-point is that Beijing delivers on commitments better than New Delhi and also takes faster decisions. While New Delhi did not publicly criticise Male, the southern neighbour was reminded through diplomatic channel that it was President Yameen's government in Maldives that had articulated its India-First policy.

This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.

This was reiterated in Asim's - a diplomat-turned-minister - conversation with the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. "Further, the Prime Minister assured that India would extend its support in all areas of cooperation", it said.



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