New Delhi: India and Saudi Arabia will seek to elevate their strategic partnership to a more broad-based one, with the focus on energy and security cooperation, during the two-day visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Riyadh beginning Saturday, the first by an Indian prime minister in six years.
Manmohan Singh was the last Indian prime minister to visit the Gulf kingdom in 2010, when the bilateral relationship was elevated to strategic partnership.
Modi, who flies in from Washington on the third and final leg of his three-nation visit, will hold discussions with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, top officials and Saudi business leaders.
The prime minister`s visit is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government`s Link West policy — of building closer ties with the Gulf region that is home to a large expatriate Indian population and fetches the country $70 billion in remittances a year.
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.
“India`s ties with Saudi Arabia are special,” Prime Minister Modi said in a statement ahead of his departure to Belgium, the US and Saudi Arabia.
“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.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir, who was in New Delhi last month in the run-up to the prime ministerial visit, said his country wanted to further elevate ties with India.
“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.
“We hope to elevate our relationship from that of the current `strategic partnership`,” he said.
He said during his meeting with Modi, he expressed Saudi Arabia`s “desire to broaden our relations in all areas”.
“We expressed our commitment to further deepen our relations in all areas including energy cooperation.”
India and Saudi Arabia had signed the Delhi Declaration during then King Abdullah`s historic visit to India in 2006, the first by a Saudi monarch in five decades.
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.
With Saudi Arabia upping the ante against terrorism and the rise of the Islamic State terror outfit, 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.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her meeting with Jubeir last month had conveyed that India is keen on a strong security and counter-terrorism partnership with Saudi Arabia and sought Riyadh`s support for India`s draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).
The nearly three million-strong expatriate Indian population in Saudi Arabia is another key aspect of the bilateral relations.
Discussions on some of the issues facing Indian workers in Saudi Arabia are also likely to come up during Modi`s visit. Sushma Swaraj had taken up the issue with Jubeir and suggested that the existing labour agreement with the Gulf nation be expanded to include sectors other than domestic workers.
On Saturday 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.
After this, Modi will meet with select top Saudi business leaders.
The official ceremony at the Royal Court will be held on Sunday 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.