New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) Manmohan Singh left on a historic three-day visit to Saudi Arabia Saturday – the first by an Indian prime minister in 28 years – hoping it would ‘open new frontiers’ and impart a ‘strategic character’ to the bilateral relationship.
The prime minister, who is leading a high level delegation, will hold talks with the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on ways to promote greater stability and security in the region.
‘There is great scope for opening new frontiers of cooperation in the areas of security, defence, science and technology, space, human resource development and knowledge-based industries,’ Manmohan Singh said in his departure statement.
He hoped the visit would ‘impart a strategic character to our relations beyond the traditional areas of our cooperation’. Saudi Arabia is India’s largest oil supplier. He also said the discussions would cover the subjects of combating extremism and terrorism, as well as Afghanistan.
The delegation accompanying the prime minister includes Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, senior officials and a 25-member CEOs delegation from corporate India.
Several bilateral agreements covering the areas of security, science and technology, culture and media are expected to be signed during the course of the visit.
Manmohan Singh said his was only the third visit by an Indian prime minister to the Gulf kingdom, and would provide ‘a vast agenda for discussions with the Saudi leadership’. The late Indira Gandhi had visited the country in 1982.
The prime minister’s visit comes four years after the historic visit of King Abdullah’s visit to India in 2006.
Manmohan Singh said the reinvigoration of relations was a direct result of King Abdullah’s visit, when he was chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. Both countries also signed the Delhi Declaration, which charts out the path for expanding bilateral ties across a wide range of fields.
Reflecting on the importance of the visit, the prime minister said that Saudi Arabia was India’s largest and ‘most reliable supplier of our energy needs from the region’.
‘Our trade and investment linkages have grown, though they remain much below the potential of our two economies, and must be broad based,’ he added.
Manmohan Singh will address the members of the Majlis Al-Shura and the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and meet with members of the Indian community.