New Delhi, March 8 (IANS) Saudi Arabia seeks to elevate its ties with India from the current “strategic partnership” during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh early next month, the Gulf kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said on Tuesday.
“We look forward to Prime Minister Modi’s visit which will be another milestone in the relations between our two great nations,” Jubeir told IANS after holding meetings with Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the run-up to the prime ministerial visit.
“We hope to elevate our relationship from that of the current ‘strategic partnership’,” he said.
Modi’s two-day visit from April 2 on his way back from the US will be the first by an Indian prime minister to Saudi Arabia after then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in 2010.
Modi’s visit assumes significance in the context of the current regional situation and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, another strategically important country for India.
Apart from being India’s largest crude oil supplier accounting for one-fifth of the imports, Saudi Arabia is also India’s fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade reaching $40 billion.
Indo-Saudi Arabian ties got a fresh boost during then King Abdullah’s visit to New Delhi in 2006 which resulted in the signing of the “Delhi Declaration”.
The reciprocal visit by Manmohan Singh in 2010 raised the level of bilateral engagement to “strategic partnership” and the “Riyadh Declaration” signed during the visit captured the spirit of enhanced cooperation in political, economic, security and defence realms.
Jubeir, who arrived in New Delhi Monday night on a day’s trip as part of the preparations for Modi’s visit, said overall his visit was “extremely successful”.
He said during his meeting with Modi on Tuesday, he expressed “our desire to broaden our relations in all areas.
“Our relations have a strong foundation. India is a very important partner for us,” the minister said.
“We expressed our commitment to further deepen our relations in all areas including energy cooperation.”
He also referred to the role played by the nearly three million-strong expatriate Indian population in the development of Saudi Arabia.
“We have a large Indian population, including doctors, teachers, engineers and managers who have made tremendous contributions to our great nation,” Jubeir said.
He said during his meeting with Sushma Swaraj, he discussed Modi’s upcoming visit and the issues that were likely to come up for deliberations.
“We discussed a wide range of issues including the fight against terror and the political dialogue between our two countries.”
It is reliably learnt that during the meeting Sushma Swaraj said that India too was keen to take the relationship with Saudi Arabia to the next level.
She said though the trade volume between the two countries, investment from Saudi Arabia of less than $60 million was very low and invited Saudi investment in India’s infrastructure sector.
She also said that India wanted a strong security and counter terrorism partnership with Saudi Arabia and she sought Riyadh’s support for India’s draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrosim (CCIT).
Sushma Swaraj also took took up some of the issues facing Indian workers in Saudi Arabia and said that the existing labour agreement with the Gulf nation should be expanded to include sectors other than domestic workers.
The two ministers also discussed the regional situation and the threat from the Islamic State terror outfit.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, Modi conveyed to Jubeir that India attached high importance to its close and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia.
“The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia conveyed that relations with India were accorded a high priority in their foreign policy,” the statement said.
“He deeply appreciated the constructive role being played by the Indian community in the development of Saudi Arabia.”
According to the statement, both leaders also exchanged views on further strengthening bilateral relations, including in the fields of trade, investment, energy, and security cooperation.
“They also discussed regional situation. They agreed that the two countries have shared interest in peace and stability in the region,” it stated.
“The prime minister expressed confidence that his forthcoming visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would provide an opportunity to elevate the bilateral strategic partnership to a new level,” it added.
(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])