India a key strategic partner: Saudi ambassador

Saudi Arabia attaches much importance to its ties with India, which has been accorded the status of a "strategic partnership", and this is set to expand further in multifaceted ways in the years to come, the kingdom's ambassador to India has said.

New Delhi: Saudi Arabia attaches much importance to its ties with India, which has been accorded the status of a "strategic partnership", and this is set to expand further in multifaceted ways in the years to come, the kingdom's ambassador to India has said.

In a message to the people of India on the kingdom's 84th National Day on Tuesday, Ambassador Saud Mohammed Alsati said one of the signs of this growing relationship is the new, larger building of the embassy that is coming up here. The National Day celebrations, held at the Taj Palace Hotel, were attended by two Indian ministers, Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla and Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh. 

"We hope this will be completed next year. This is yet another sign of our expanding ties. I am sure and confident this will only grow with time," said the
ambassador.

Praising the large Indian community in Saudi Arabia, the ambassador said it was engaged in the entire spectrum of his country's economy, from high-end scientific research and development to the construction sector, and that its contribution was much valued.

"The 2.5 million Indians in Saudi Arabia form the largest expatriate community in our country and we consider them to be among the 'most preferred' due to their expertise, discipline, and law-abiding and peace loving nature," he said.

He also said India nationals also formed the largest group of pilgrims from any country for the annual Haj pilgrimage, which amounted to 1.1 million in 2013. This
apart some 145,000 Indians visited the Kingdom last year and another 300,000 perform Umrah every year.

"I would like to emphasise here that our government is executing a major project to expand the area in and around the Grand Mosque in Makkah to accommodate
millions of more pilgrims. Some grand plans to spruce up infrastructure is also being implemented," he said.

"This will benefit tens and thousands of Indians."

On trade relations, the ambassador said around 500 licences have been issued to Indian firms to operate in Saudi Arabia and many Indian companies were household
names there.

He said despite a difficult year that 2013-14 was, India's exports to Saudi Arabia increased as much as 24.82 percent, while imports were up nearly 7.5 percent.

"Overall, the bilateral trade increased impressively by nearly 12 percent – an exchange of merchandise worth nearly USD 50 billion. Our Kingdom and its enterprises,
in itself, are large investors in India," he said.

"If India is the main source of our valued human resource, Saudi Arabia is the main source for India's need for fossil fuels. If India is the fifth largest market for Saudi exports, we are your sixth largest market for such merchandise."

In terms of investments from Saudi Arabia, he said the state-managed SABIC had recently announced a research centre in Bangalore with an investment of over USD 100
million, while a pact has been signed for a USD 750-million India-Saudi Investment Fund to finance India's infrastructure projects.

The ambassador also fondly recalled the visit of King Abdullah to India in 2006 as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations and said that had added a
new momentum to the ties with the "Delhi Declaration". He also recalled that during the visit, the king had called India his "second home" and had himself
endorsed the document which accorded "strategic" status to India-Saudi Arabia ties.

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