PM on Saudi visit; to sign extradition treaty, other pacts
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Last Updated: Saturday, February 27, 2010, 15:15
New Delhi: Amid his keenness to impart "strategic character" to India-Saudi Arabia ties, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday embarked on a visit to Riyadh during which the two sides will sign an Extradition Treaty and a number of other pacts.

During the three-day trip, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 28 years, Singh will hold talks with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on a range of bilateral issues with a focus on opening "new frontiers" of cooperation in various areas including security and defence.

Noting that his visit carries a "special significance", he said in a departure statement that India and Saudi Arabia have much to gain by cooperating with each other in combating extremism and terrorism.

Singh said he would discuss with the Saudi King the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues and ways in which "we promote greater stability and security in the region and impart a strategic character to our relations beyond the traditional areas of our cooperation".

During the visit, the two sides will sign a number of pacts including Extradition Treaty, Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners and Agreement on setting up Joint Investment Fund.

Accompanied by a large delegation of business and industry leaders, the Prime Minister will also discuss ways of boosting two-way trade amid his keen interest to see increased investments from Saudi Arabia especially in the infrastructure sector.

"Our trade and investment linkages have grown though they remain much below the potential of our two economies and must be broad-based," Singh said.

Saudi Arabia is India's fourth largest trading partner with two-way commerce being to the tune of about USD 25 billion.

Referring to the Delhi Declaration issued during the visit of King Abdullah here in 2006 as Republic Day chief guest, the Prime Minister said it was a "valuable blueprint" of cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Noting that Gulf region is an area of vital importance for India's security and prosperity, he said that Saudi Arabia is India's largest and most reliable supplier of energy needs from the region.

Energy cooperation between the two countries has witnessed massive increase since King Abdullah's Delhi visit, with Saudi exports jumping from USD 500 million in 2006 to USD 23 billion in 2008, surpassing Iran as the largest supplier of crude oil to India.

Saudi Arabia hosts around 1.8 million Indians as workers. Their remittances are to the tune of five billion dollars annually.

In an interview to Saudi journalists ahead of his visit, Singh said that considerable progress had been made in realising the vision of Delhi Declaration which enshrined the commitment to pursue common strategic vision for promoting regional peace and security.

Pointing out that extremism and terrorism afflicting the region poses a "grave threat to our peoples", he said efforts of SAARC and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should be more effectively coordinated to meet the challenges.

"Terrorism remains the single biggest threat to peace, stability and to our progress. Global efforts are needed to defend the values of pluralism, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law," Singh said.

"We reject the idea that any religion or cause can be used to justify violence against innocent people," he said, adding that all the member countries of the GCC share India's concerns relating to extremism and terrorism.

Describing India and Saudi Arabia as "strong allies" against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security, he said, "Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people."

He said India looks forward to deepening defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia although there is no agreement in this area between the two countries.

He allayed as "misplaced" the concerns in the Middle East about growing Indo-Israeli defence cooperation in recent times which many feel could be at the expense of India's traditional support for the Arab cause.

"Our relationship with no single country is at the expense of our relations with any other country," he said.

India's relations with the countries in West Asia give it the opportunity to interact in diverse ways with this very important region, the Prime Minister underlined.

On India's support for Palestine, Singh termed it as "an article of faith for us" and emphasised that India's solidarity with the people of Palestine "pre-dates our independence".

Singh said India supports a peaceful solution that would result in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine living within secure and recognised borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Road Map and the relevant Security Council Resolutions.

"We also support the Arab Peace Plan," he said.

In the context of supporting the Palestinian cause, the Prime Minister noted that he had recently hosted President Mahmoud Abbas and "reiterated to him our steadfast support for Palestine and its people."

Noting that destinies of India and the Arab world are tied together, he said, "We have much to gain by intensifying our cooperation with each other. We have a huge stake in each other's success, and to that extent ours is a relationship that is of strategic importance."

He said he would like to see a much greater integration of the two economies, higher flow of trade and investment, better connectivities and freer flow of ideas and people.

"This has in fact been our historical legacy, and we should revive that legacy. From our side, there are no impediments to a rapid, sustained and comprehensive expansion of relations between India and the Arab world," he said.


First Published: Saturday, February 27, 2010, 15:15

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