Modi to pay key bilateral visit to Saudi Arabia

New Delhi, April 1 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Riyadh from Washington on Saturday on the third and last leg of his three-nation tour to pay a two-day bilateral visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

This will be the first prime ministerial visit from India to the Gulf kingdom after the visit of then prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2010.

During that visit, the relationship between the two countries was elevated to “strategic partnership”.

This was after the Delhi Declaration made during then King Abdullah’s historic visit to India in 2006, the first by a Saudi monarch in five decades.

There are four key aspects to India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia: energy cooperation, the nearly three million-strong expatriate Indian community, Haj pilgrimage and security cooperation.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest crude oil supplier accounting for one-fifth of the total imports. In 2015, India imported $21 billion worth of crude oil from that Gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia is also India’s fourth largest trading partner with exports to that country exceeding $11 billion.

At over 2.96 million, Indians form the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and are crucial to the Indian economy as they send over $10 billion in remittances every year.

Over 134,000 Indians go for the Haj pilgrimage every year and almost 300,000 for Umra.

A key aspect of the strategic partnership between the two countries is the defence cooperation agreement signed during then Crown Prince Salman’s visit to India in 2014.

With Saudi Arabia upping the ante against terrorism, security cooperation also has become an important cornerstone of the relationship. In recent times, Riyadh handed over to New Delhi key terror operatives like Abu Jundal and Abdul Aziz alias Gidda.

“India’s ties with Saudi Arabia are special,” Prime Minister Modi said in a statement ahead of his departure from New Delhi.

“Robust people-to-people ties constitute a key component of our engagement. I plan to work with the Saudi leadership to expand and deepen our bilateral relations. Discussions on the regional situation would also be on the agenda,” he said.

The prime minister also said that he wanted Saudi businesses to partner in India’s development plans.

Soon after his arrival in Riyadh on Saturday afternoon, Modi will visit the historic Masmak fortress.

The fortress was taken over by King Abdulaziz in 1902 in a sudden attack which marked the start of the history of the third state of Saudi Arabia.

Thereafter, Modi will meet with members of the Indian community which will be followed by a visit to the L&T workers’ residential complex.

L&T is doing $2 billion worth of work on the $600-billion Riyadh Metro Project.

On Sunday, the prime minister will visit the Tata Consultancy Services’ (TCS) all-women IT centre.

“It is a very happy thing that he will be doing because this centre provides employment opportunities to Saudi women and this is empowerment of Saudi women,” Mridul Kumar, joint secretary (Gulf) in the external affairs ministry, said at a media briefing in connection with the visit.

“When the centre started two or three years back, there were 80 people in that centre. It has now grown to over 1,000,” he said, adding that 80 percent of the workers there were local Saudi girls.

Stating that this was the first BPO operation by any company in the world in Saudi Arabia, Kumar said that “it is a very important statement that we will be making there”.

After this, Modi will meet with select top Saudi business leaders.

The official ceremony at the Royal Court will start in the afternoon when King Salman will receive the prime minister

King Salman will host a lunch in Modi’s honour in which key Saudi ministers and other leaders will be present,

This will be followed by a delegation-level meeting and signing of agreements.

The prime minister will leave for New Delhi late Sunday afternoon.

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