NEW DELHI, India -- The government of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao announced Wednesday it would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, paving the way for the countries to open embassies and exchange ambassadors.
The move came less than two weeks after Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, visited New Delhi and repeatedly said the exchange of ambassadors was a matter of sovereignty and he would respect the decision of India's leaders.
The remarks by Arafat, who is recognized in India as the president of Palestine, were widely interpreted in the Indian news media as giving the green light for New Delhi to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
The decision to recognize Israel also came on the eve of Rao's departure for New York to participate in a heads-of-state meeting of the U.N. Security Council. India last year took a seat as a temporary member of the council.
Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, in announcing the decision, said Wednesday that embassies would be opened in Tel Aviv and New Delhi as soon as 'physically feasible,' the Press Trust of India news agency said.
He said details for opening embassies and exchanging ambassadors would be worked out through normal diplomatic channels. The foreign secretary said the Israeli mission in Bombay had been informed of the decision, as had the Israeli government and Moscow.
Dixit said the prime minister had made the decision after a series of meetings over the past few days with politicians in his own ruling Congress (I) Party as well as members of the opposition.
India established political ties with Israel in 1951 and the Israeli government maintains a consulate in Bombay, but India isnot represented in Israel and does not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Indian officials have recently expressed an interest in becoming more involved in the Middle East peace process, but Israeli officials have told New Delhi that if India wants to play a more active role the countries should establish full diplomatic ties.
As a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement with a large Muslim population and economic ties with the Muslim countries in the Middle East, India has cultivated a relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization and has been reluctant to recognize Israel.
India's decision to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel is a recognization of changing realities in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which disrupted New Delhi's foreign policy based on playing off the superpowers against each other.
The country has been more willing to support Western initiatives in recent months, allowing the refueling of U.S. aircraft during the Persian Gulf war and voting with most of the rest of the world to repeal the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.