India is likely to strongly raise the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even as the two countries will look at further enhancing defence ties, including having a joint naval exercise, during his two-day visit here beginning Tuesday, officials and sources said.
The Crown Prince who arrived in Islamabad on Sunday at the start of his tour of South Asia has returned to Saudi Arabia on Monday, official sources said. New Delhi had reservations over his coming to India from Pakistan.
Ahead of the visit by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said in Islamabad on Monday that Riyadh will try to “de-escalate” tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the deadly terror attack in Pulwama by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Official sources said Saudi Arabia was no longer accepting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism and that India will forcefully raise the issue of Pakistan’s support to terror groups during delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Crown Prince on Wednesday.
They said the joint statement to be issued after talks between the two sides is likely to have strong reference about terrorism and ways to deal with it.
Secretary, Economic Affairs in the External Affairs Ministry T S Tirumurti said both sides are expected to sign five agreements in areas of investment, tourism, housing and information and broadcasting during the Saudi leader’s visit.
“We are confident that this visit will open a new chapter in India-Saudi bilateral relationship,” he said.
Referring to cross border terrorism, he said, “Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned and denounced the terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama on 14 February. We appreciate Kingdom’s cooperation in security and counter terrorism areas over the years.”
Official sources said there has been a “change” in the way Saudi Arabia looked at relations between India and Pakistan and that the powerful Gulf nation has a better understanding of the cross-border terrorism.
“India has been identified as one of the eight strategic partners with whom Saudi Arabia intends to deepen partnership in areas of political, security, trade and investment and culture,” said Tirumurti.
“As part of this engagement, we are finalizing the setting up of ‘Strategic Partnership Council’ between the two countries at ministerial level. We are confident that this will give greater thrust to our strategic partnership and take forward our discussions in a focussed and action-oriented manner,” he said.
The sources said the two sides are looking at joint exercise between the two navies besides significantly ramping up overall defence cooperation.
They said Saudi Arabia has been providing India information and intelligence about various terror networks. The two countries had inked a pact on exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism during Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016.
The Crown Prince will be accompanied by a high-level official team as well as a large business delegation.
Modi will host a lunch in honour of the Crown Prince at Hyderabad House on Wednesday.
The Crown Prince will call on President Ram Nath Kovind and he will host a banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary
During the visit of PM Modi to Saudi Arabia in 2016, an MoU on cooperation in exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was signed. The Kingdom has shown greater understanding of India’s terrorism-related concerns and also agreed to work with India in countering this global menace.
The two countries held meeting of 4th Joint Defence Cooperation Committee last month in Riyadh during which both sides explored the possibility of elevating the defence engagement with joint production and joint exercises, particularly joint naval exercises, said Tirumurti.
India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its 4th largest trading partner.
Saudi Arabia is also a key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17 per cent or more of crude oil and 32 per cent of LPG requirements of India.
Recently, Saudi ARAMCO in partnership with ADNOC of UAE has agreed to partner in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project Ltd which is a joint venture of USD 44 billion.
Indian partners are IOC, BPCL and HPCL.
“We hope to transform this buyer-seller relationship in energy to a broad-based partnership,” said Tirumurti.
He said other areas of interest for joint collaboration are fertilizers, food security, infrastructure, renewable energy, etc.
“We are also looking forward to greater collaboration in the area of civil aviation, where there is considerable potential for enhanced links, especially in the context of increasing trade, tourism and in enhancing convenience of travel,” the official said.
He said Saudi Arabia has conveyed to India that it will be joining ‘International Solar Alliance’ initiative.
The Crown Prince is expected to travel to China from India. PTI MPB