01 March 2010

PM concludes historic Saudi visit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday concluded a historic three-day visit to Saudi Arabia during which 10 bilateral agreements were signed and the Riyadh Declaration was issued to strengthen ties between India and the influential oil-rich nation.

In a rare honour accorded to a foreign dignitary, Singh was invited to address the Majlis-ash-Shura, the Saudi parliament, where he not only sought investments from the Islamic kingdom but also pressed the need for Pakistan to "act decisively against terrorism".

He said that India would grow at the rate of 9 to 10 percent for the next 25 years.

"We seek Saudi investments in a range of sectors from infrastructure and manufacturing to the services and hospitality sector." 

"Equally, Indian industry is ready to take advantage of the many opportunities that are opening up in the IT, banking, telecommunications and pharmaceutical and hydrocarbon sectors in Saudi Arabia," he said. The kingdom is the largest supplier of hydrocarbons to India. 

He also said that India wishes to "live in peace and friendship with its neighbours". 

"If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia," he told the Majlis-ash-Shura.

But for this, he said, Pakistan needs to "act decisively against terrorism". He added that India's desire for cooperative relations with Pakistan was aimed at seeking permanent peace in South Asia.

Manmohan Singh said the challenge of terrorism was immense in Afghanistan, where a Taliban suicide attack Friday in Kabul left 17 people dead, including nine Indians.

The prime minister visited the King Saud University where an honorary doctorate was conferred on Manmohan Singh, an economist turned politician.

The prime minister left the Saudi capital for home after attending a function at the Indian embassy where he met representatives of the 1.8 million Indian expatriate community.

Indian officials said the Saudi visit, the first by an Indian prime minister after Indira Gandhi's in 1982, was aimed at forging a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The prime minister and Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz signed the 'Riyadh Declaration - A New Era of Strategic Partnership' Sunday to put their seal on steadily growing ties. This is expected to cover security, economy, defence, technology and political areas as well as ways to combat terrorism.

"The two leaders reviewed the status of implementation of the historic Delhi Declaration signed in 2006, and expressed their satisfaction at the steady expansion of Saudi-India relations since the signing of the Delhi Declaration," the new declaration read.

A pathbreaking extradition treaty was signed to enhance the existing security cooperation between the two countries. It will help the authorities in apprehending criminal elements wanted to stand trial in each other's country.

Besides the king, Manmohan Singh also met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi and Commerce and Industry Minister Zainal Alireza.

Another agreement signed by the two countries was to facilitate transfer of sentenced prisoners to their own country.

"We hope this treaty will facilitate the transfer of Indian prisoners back to India where they could serve the remaining (part of the) sentence (given by a Saudi court)," said Latha Reddy of the Indian external affairs ministry.

The third agreement was on cultural cooperation between the two ministries of culture.

The fourth memorandum of understanding was on cooperation on the peaceful use of outer space. It was signed between India's Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

Tata Motors has agreed to supply Saudi Arabia's Hotil schoolbuses worth $80 million. A pact was also signed between the Gulf Bureau of Research and DFL, and another between India's Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and Saudi Arabia's King Saud University.

On Saturday, the prime minister had arrived to an unprecedented welcome in the Saudi capital when, setting aside protocol, the Saudi crown prince and the entire cabinet turned up at the airport to receive the Indian leader.

On Sunday, King Abdullah officially welcomed him at a grand ceremony where a guard of honour was presented and a state banquet thrown in his honour.

India is working to develop close relations with Saudi Arabia, which was one of only three countries to back the Taliban regime in Kabul when New Delhi supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The Saudi approach to Islamists underwent a radical change after 9/11.


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