Saudi Arabia is one of the two top suppliers of crude oil to India.

 

NEW DELHI: India awaits the first-ever visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman this month, which is expected to take the relationship between the two countries beyond energy security. Though the dates of his visit are yet to be finalised, sources said that Salman may visit India on 20 February.

Sources said that besides energy security, the two countries are likely to explore investments during the high profile visit. Regarding the date, a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official, however, said: “We are trying to work out the details of the tour and there is a proper mechanism for it which we are following.”

The visit is significant as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the two top suppliers of crude oil to India. Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter, has been eyeing India’s larger share of oil market after US slapped sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. The country has also emerged as a key strategic partner of India and both sides entered into a defence MoU in 2014. Saudi Arabia is also a major destination of Indian workers.

“The visit also assumes significance as the Saudi leadership has stood against Wahhabism. The leadership promotes Sufi and moderate version of Islam, which the Indian leadership feels is the need of the hour to bring about universal peace and brotherhood. The Crown Prince, who is modernizing the kingdom and open it to the world, is seen as the man behind Riyadh’s strategy to revamp the Saudi economy,” said the sources.

In a historic development that ushers the Gulf country into a new era of liberalism, rules were changed in Saudi Arabia last year for issuing driving licences to women.

The sources said while India is eyeing investments in energy and manufacturing sectors, Saudi Arabia is keen to woo Indian investments in Qiddiya entertainment city, a planned hub with amusement, theme parks and race tracks.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the kingdom to participate in the flagship schemes of India like “Start Up India” and “Smart City” projects.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner after China, US and UAE. The bilateral trade between the two countries increased 9.56% to $ 27.48 billion during 2017-18.

India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has progressed in the recent times. The historic visit of King Abdullah to India in 2006 resulted in the signing of the “Delhi Declaration”, imparting a fresh momentum to the bilateral relationship.

The visit provided the framework for cooperation in all fields of mutual interest. The reciprocal visit by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia in 2010 raised the level of bilateral engagement to “strategic partnership” and the “Riyadh Declaration” signed during the visit captured the spirit of enhanced cooperation in political, economic, security and defence realms.

The visit of then Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who was then Saudi Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence (now the King), to India in 2014 further deepened the relations between the two countries.

The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Riyadh in April 2016 was a turning point in India’s growing engagement with the country, which has taken an upward strategic direction. In a special gesture, King Salman honoured PM Modi with the “Sash of King Abdulaziz”, the highest civilian decoration awarded by the Kingdom.

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