PM arrives in Riyadh, Saudi King's brother welcomes him

Riyadh: India-Saudi Arabia relations are set to receive a major boost with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday embarking on his long-overdue visit to this oil- rich country during which the two sides will sign an Extradition Treaty and 10 other pacts in various fields.

Singh arrived here this evening to a rousing welcome from the Saudi Government which demonstrated a special gesture as the entire cabinet, including the three brothers of King Abdullah, received him and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the King Khalid International Airport.

First Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister and second Deputy Prime Minister second Crown Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz and Governor of Riydah Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz warmly greeted Singh, the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country in 28 years.

Amid his keenness to impart "strategic character" to India-Saudi Arabia ties, Singh will hold wide-ranging talks with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on issues ranging from cooperation in various areas, situation in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism.

India's concerns over 'safe havens' of Al-Qaeda and Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border will be also discussed during the talks between Singh and King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia itself has concerns with regard to Al-Qaeda operating out of Yemen.

Flags of both India and Saudi Arabia fluttered the roads leading to the airport in Riyadh.

Singh will be accorded a formal reception by King Abdullah tomorrow at the Al Rawdah Palace, where the two leaders will hold bilateral talks and sign agreements.

Singh and King Abdullah will also hold talks on opening "new frontiers" of cooperation in various areas including security and defence.

Oil and Mineral Resources Minister Alial Naimi, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and Commerce and Industries Minister Abdulla Zainal Ali Reza will call on the Prime Minister tomorrow and hold discussions.

During the three-day visit, the two sides will sign Extradition Treaty and 10 other pacts, including Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners and Agreement on setting up Joint Investment Fund.

Ahead of his departure from New Delhi, the Prime Minister, in a statement, noted that his visit to Saudi Arabia carries a "special significance" and 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".