Pranab Mukherjee meets Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah

April 19th, 2008 - 10:31 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Aroonim Bhuyan
Riyadh, April 19 (IANS) India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee called on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz within a few hours of his arrival here Saturday. The meeting with King Abdullah is the first of a series of high-level meetings the foreign minister is scheduled to have, including with Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal, during the course of his two-day visit to the Gulf’s largest and most influential nation.

Earlier, after his arrival at the Royal Terminal of the King Khalid International Airport here on a special Indian Air Force aircraft this afternoon, Mukherjee was met by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nazaar Obaid Madani.

The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for West Asia and Middle East peace process, C.R. Gharekhan, who is part of the minister’s delegation, was also present at the airport along with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia M.O.H. Farook.

Other members of the delegation include secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, N. Ravi, external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna and Vikram Misri, director.

Mukherjee’s visit is the most important bilateral visit from the Indian side since King Abdullah’s historic visit to India in 2006 when the Delhi Declaration was signed.

“The visit is most important from both sides’ point of view in terms of rediscovering each other in the post-Cold War stage,” a senior Indian diplomatic official here said.

“Because of Saudi Arabia’s size and clout in the region, enhanced Indo-Saudi ties will have a positive impact in terms of India’s relations with the rest of the region,” he said.

With Iraq in turmoil, Saudi Arabia is one of the two most important players in the region, the other being Iran.

Bilateral economic ties between the two countries have also seen an upswing since King Abdullah’s visit.

According to the Delhi Declaration, signed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah, both sides agreed to develop a strategic energy partnership based on complimentaries and inter-dependence which would include reliable, stable and increased volum of crude supplies to India.

Among other highlights of the declaration are setting up of cooperative and joint ventures in up and down stream oil and gas sectors in India, Saudi Arabia and third countries and setting up of Indo-Saudi joint ventures for gas-based fertilizer plants in Saudi Arabia.

India’s total trade with Saudi Arabia at the end of 2005-06 stood at $3.4 billion. After the Saudi ruler’s visit, it jumped to around $16 billion in 2006-07.

India is Saudi Arabia’s fifth largest trading partner after Japan, the US, South Korea and China. Saudi Arabia is the 15th largest market for Indian goods and services while India is the fifth largest market for Saudi Arabia.

In the period 2006-07, Saudi exports to India stood at $13.4 billion. However, Saudi imports from India are significantly lower, totalling $2.6 billion for the same period.

Cooperation in the field of manpower is another important dimension of the Indo-Saudi relationship.

There are approximately 1.5 million expatriate Indians in Saudi Arabia and around 85 percent of them are engaged as blue-collar workers. Remittances from these Indian workers are estimated to be around $3 billion annually and these contribute significantly to the Indian economy.

Mukherjee’s visit is also being seen as a continuation of the new process of enhanced bilateral engagements and a new cycle of high-level visits from India is being initiated.

The foreign minister’s visit is also expected to lay the groundwork for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit here sometime later this year.

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