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
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
"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
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
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.