Manmohan to go to Saudi Arabia, Qatar next month

October 17th, 2008 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 17 (IANS) In his first visit to the Gulf region after becoming prime minister over four years ago, Manmohan Singh will go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar next month - an important visit that seeks to underscore India’s special ties with the Arab world.Manmohan Singh will go to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s most influential country, and Qatar, home to large oil and gas reserves, on a two-nation visit that begins Nov 8, official sources told IANS.

This will be the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Riyadh in over two-and-a-half decades after Indira Gandhi went there in 1982.

The visit has been in the making for over a year. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s trip to Riyadh early this year, after several last-minute postponements, prepared the much-needed groundwork for the prime minister’s forthcoming visit.

Manmohan Singh’s trip to Riyadh will return the visit by the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, to New Delhi in 2006 that heralded a new era in not only New Delhi’s ties with Riyadh but also with the energy-rich Middle East that is home to over 4.5-million strong Indian diaspora.

India feted King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud as chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 2006 - the first visit by a Saudi monarch to the country in over half a century.

The prime minister’s visit will build upon the 2006 Delhi Declaration that moved the ties beyond energy security into a larger strategic orbit by including active cooperation in combating terrorism and cooperation on regional issues as new elements of engagement between the two countries.

Some energy and economy-related agreements are likely to be signed during the visit, the sources added. Details are being worked out.

The visit will also focus on the development of a “strategic energy partnership” with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer that supplies nearly 30 percent of India’s crude oil needs.

Energy security will again be a key theme during the prime minister’s day-long visit to Qatar, home to around 420,000 expatriate Indians. Issues relating to the welfare of Indian workers in that country will also be discussed.

Nine years ago, India signed an agreement for exporting 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied gas from Qatar annually in two phases.

With elections barely a few months away, the prime minister’s visit to two influential Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is also imbued with political overtones and is likely to be projected as a sign of India’s commitment to deepen relations with the Muslim world despite New Delhi’s growing ties with Washington.

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