Economic ties, West Asia peace top Pranab’s Riyadh agendaApril 17th, 2008 - 5:33 pm ICT by admin
New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) After deferring his trip to Riyadh at least three times due to last-minute hitches, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee finally goes to Saudi Arabia Saturday on a two-day visit that will intensify India’s manifold ties with the Gulf’s most influential country. This will be the first high-level Indian visit to the oil-rich kingdom, home to 1.6 million-strong Indian diaspora, after King Abdullah came here in 2006.
The visit will “provide an opportunity for India and Saudi Arabia to discuss bilateral political, economic, commercial, consular and cultural matters and to build on their multifaceted partnership,” the external affairs ministry said here Thursday while announcing Mukherjee’s visit.
Mukherjee’s visit will focus on intensifying economic and energy ties between the two countries and laying the groundwork for a likely visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia later this year, official sources said.
Mukherjee will be returning the visit by his Saudi counterpart Saud Al Faisal in February that focused on intensifying trade and increased investment by Saudi Arabia in India in the fields of infrastructure, chemicals, petrochemicals and energy.
He will meet Al Faisal and top functionaries of the Saudi government and discuss with them focus areas identified in the Delhi Declaration like combating terrorism and firming up a joint mechanism for spurring outlays in the investment and energy sectors.
Besides bilateral issues, regional and global matters, especially the faltering peace process in the Middle East, will figure prominently in discussions between the two sides.
That the trip has a wider canvas is reflected in the composition of Mukherjee’s delegation that includes the prime minister’s special envoy for West Asia Chinmaya Gharekhan. N. Ravi, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, will also be accompanying the minister to Riyadh.
Gharekhan, a veteran diplomat with wide-ranging connections in the region, also accompanied Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to the US-led international peace conference on the Middle East peace process at Annapolis last year.
In the wake of the escalating violence in Gaza last month, India made a strong pitch for dialogue and reconciliation in the region and asked Israel to refrain from the disproportionate use of force.
India-Saudi bilateral trade is growing and is estimated to be over $5.5 billion. Saudi Arabia is increasingly looking at India as a knowledge power and is keen to expand cooperation in technical, medical and related education fields.
The two sides will also focus on steps that can imbue their strategic energy partnership with more substance. They have already agreed to work on “evergreen” long-term contracts that would ensure reliable, stable and increased supplies.
The two countries are also planning to work jointly in the energy sector in third countries.
Mukherjee was all set to go to Riyadh in January, but had to cancel his visit at the last minute. In April last year, he met with an accident a day before his scheduled departure to the Saudi capital.
Since then, the visit was planned a couple of times, but no dates that suited both sides could be arranged.