New Delhi, April 2: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here today on a two-day visit to energy-powerhouse Saudi Arabia during which both countries are set to sign a raft of pacts to bolster their strategic partnership besides exploring ways to deepen security and counter-terror cooperation.
Modi was given a warm welcome at the ‘Royal Terminal’ of the Khalid International Airport with Governor of Riyadh Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, a key member of the Royal family, receiving him along with a number of high- ranking Saudi officials. From the airport, located 35 kilometres north of Riyadh, the Prime Minister drove straight to the majestic and highly fortified King Saud Guest Palace in the heart of the city where Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud is hosting the Indian leader and his delegation. The entire complex has been elaborately decorated.
“Reached Saudi Arabia. I look forward to a productive visit that will strengthen our bilateral relations,” the Prime Minister tweeted in Arabic as well as in English just after his arrival.
In the last seven months, it is Modi’s second visit to the Gulf, a strategically important region which is home to over 8 million Indians and key to India’s energy security.
Combating threat of terrorism and radicalisation are expected to figure high on the agenda of talks between Modi and the leadership of Saudi Arabia, a country known as the spiritual home of Islam, which recently formed a major coalition of 34 Muslim nations to fight terror, particularly the ISIS.
The visit is expected to put bilateral ties on a new trajectory. India’s ties with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s leading oil producers, have been on an upswing over the last two decades based on burgeoning energy ties and both countries may look to move beyond the buyer-seller relationship in the sector and go for joint ventures and investment in refineries and oil fields.
In this context, Modi may seek deeper involvement of Indian companies in upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in the Gulf nation whose economy has been hit due to falling crude prices, cut in oil exports and slowing down of domestic consumption.
The Prime Minister will hold extensive talks with King Salman on a range of bilateral issues tomorrow following which both sides will sign a number of MoUs.
Separately, he will also meet Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman.
The Prime Minister arrived here from Washington on the final leg of his three-nation tour that began on March 30 with a visit to Brussels.
Security and counter-terror cooperation between India and Saudi had gotten a boost after then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit here six years back during which both countries had elevated their ties to the strategic partnership level.
The security cooperation has been improving since then.
Saudi Arabia has close ties with Islamabad and India may raise the issue of Pakistan-based terror groups carrying out attacks on it.
Modi had visited the United Arab Emirates, another close ally of Pakistan, in August and both sides, in a joint statement, had called on all states to abandon use of terror against other countries which was seen as a message to Islamabad.
Modi is the fourth Indian Prime Minister to visit Saudi Arabia after Singh in 2010, Indira Gandhi in 1982 and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956.
His visit here comes amid the current turmoil in the Middle East and the issue is likely to figure prominently in the deliberations he will have with the Saudi leadership.
There are over 2.96 million Indian nationals working in Saudi Arabia, the largest expatriate community in the country, and Modi is expected to raise issues concerning them during his talks with the King.
Modi’s engagements include meeting top CEOs of major Saudi companies, visit the famous Masmak fort, interaction with the Indian community and visit to a Tata Consultancy centre which had trained over 1,000 Saudi women.
Saudi Arabia plans to invest USD one trillion in infrastructure development over the next five years and Modi is likely to pitch for participation of Indian companies in the projects.