RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Published — Friday 28 February 2014
Last update 6 March 2014 5:21 am
Saudi Arabia and India on Thursday sought to further deepen strategic diplomatic and business relations as Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, met India’s top leadership, including President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
A wide range of bilateral and regional issues including terrorism and security situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan figured prominently during the talks between the Crown Prince and Indian officials. The two sides pledged to work closely to safeguard economic and security interests through proactive diplomacy in the Middle East.
A statement released by the Indian Prime Minister’s office on Thursday said: “Crown Prince Salman and Prime Minister Singh discussed trade, investment, terrorism and security situation in West Asia and Afghanistan in the talks.”
The crown prince warmly reciprocated the Indian government’s gestures and said: “Indo-Saudi relations are old and historic.”
He elaborated: “Bilateral relations have been progressing well, and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instructed that excellent relations should be maintained with India,” adding that Saudi Arabia was interested in improving relations with India in all fields.
“It welcomes cooperation in fighting terrorism,” said the crown prince, adding that ties must be further strengthened.
Singh conveyed to Crown Prince Salman that India had a special relationship with Saudi Arabia which it holds in high esteem.
Later, Crown Prince Salman was received by Indian President Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Welcoming the crown prince, Mukherjee said relations between India and Saudi Arabia will be greatly strengthened by his visit, which is his first as crown prince.
“India cherishes its cordial and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, which are deep-rooted in history and based on the foundation of close people-to-people contacts,” Mukherjee said.
He added: “The defense pact signed by Riyadh and New Delhi would help defense personnel of the two countries to work closely and learn from each other’s experiences. Both countries are vulnerable to the menace of terrorism, and India shares many security concerns with Saudi Arabia.”
Expressing happiness that the two countries have been cooperating in the fight against terrorism, money laundering, narcotics, arms and human trafficking, Mukherjee also conveyed his sincere thanks to King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman for “ensuring the well-being and safety of Indians in Saudi Arabia.”
The Indian president also complimented the Saudi government for the excellent arrangements made for Haj pilgrims from all over the world, including those from India.
On the sidelines of the visit, several ministerial meetings also took place in New Delhi on Thursday. During an interaction with Indian media, Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja highlighted all aspects of the ties, and particularly mentioned the visit of the first Indian Prime Minister late Jawaharlal Nehru to Saudi Arabia in 1956 when he delivered a speech at a football stadium.
“This was a privilege not given to any other foreign leader,” said Khoja, who also met Indian Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch in the Indian capital on Thursday.
The two sides revisited the memorandum of understanding on cultural cooperation signed between the two countries in 2010 providing a framework for deeper engagement. The Saudi side proposed to hold Indian painting and photography exhibition in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to showcase the diversity of India. Possible cooperation in documentation of manuscripts and antiquities between Riyadh National Museum and National Institute of Art Conservation and Museology, New Delhi, was also discussed.
The two sides stressed the need for sharing Indian experience in exploration and excavation of archaeological sites in association with Archaeological Survey of India, cooperation between the National Archives of India and the Saudi Libraries on preservation, maintenance and conservation of ancient records and holding calligraphy exhibitions in India and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia also expressed pleasure to host a music troupe from India this year.
Khoja also extended an invitation to the Indian culture minister to visit Riyadh to discuss possible areas of cultural cooperation and partnership. Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammed Al-Jasser also met with vice chairman of India’s Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Thursday.
Later, a dinner hosted by Saudi Ambassador to India Saud Al-Sati was attended by Crown Prince Salman and Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari besides a large number of Saudi and Indian officials.