Visits Visits

Briefing by Secretary (East) on forthcoming visit of PM to Saudi Arabia

February 26, 2010

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Good evening and thanks for joining us. Secretary (East) Ms. Latha Reddy is here to brief you on Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia. As you are aware, Prime Minister would be leaving for Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Let me also introduce my colleague, to the right of Secretary (East), Mr. Anil Trigunayat, who is our Joint Secretary (Gulf). Secretary (East) would be making her opening remarks and thereafter, she will be happy to take questions pertaining to Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia. May I request Secretary (East) to make her opening remarks?

Secretary East (Ms. Vijaya Latha Reddy): Good Afternoon. I am here to brief you on Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia, which begins tomorrow, the 27th of February. Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, accompanied by Smt. Gursharan Kaur will be visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from February 27 - March 1, 2010 at the invitation of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the two Holy Mosques. He will also be accompanied on his visit by Hon'ble Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Minister of State for External Affairs and a number of senior officials. This visit comes four years after the landmark visit of His Majesty King Abdullah, who was the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day in 2006.

As you all know, India and Saudi Arabia are bound by common and shared history, close and regular contacts that date back for millennia, and for muslim brothers and sisters is a place of pilgrimage where the two holy Mosques are situated. The historical linkages do indeed date back for thousands for years and have deepened and diversified. The visit also aims at reinforcing the strategic partnership between the two countries. Several agreements & MoUs representing a broad range of cooperation in the areas of Security, S&T, Culture, Media etc. will be signed which will further enrich and institutionalize the strategic objectives and cooperation between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Prime Minister will also address the Shoura Council which is a unique honour bestowed upon select dignitaries.

Saudi Arabia is an important trading and energy security partner. The bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia during 2008-2009 exceeded US$ 25 billion. Many Indian companies are active in Saudi Arabia in various sectors. A 25-member CEOs delegation is also visiting Saudi Arabiam at the time of visit of Prime Minister and will have interactions with their Saudi counterparts to establish mutually beneficial business partnerships. The Prime Minister will address the captains of Saudi businesses and industry during his visit.

During the visit, Prime Minister will have substantive discussions with His Majesty King Abdullah and several Saudi Ministers will also call on the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister will also be interacting with a cross section of the Indian community in Saudi Arabia, which numbers nearly 1.8 million at present, and whose role and contribution for the development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is widely appreciated there. I will be happy to take questions

Question: Madam, we hear that there are two treaties, one is the Extradition Treaty and the other is on transfer on sentenced persons. Are they expected to be signed during this visit?

Secretary (East): We do expect to sign agreements covering various subjects, but the formal announcements regarding the signing will be made during the visit.

Question: Is there any investment fund in the pipeline with regard to Saudi Arabia?

Secretary (East): This is also under discussion, and we are hoping that that can also be finalized.

Question: Madam, could you indicate to us the kind of perspective that the Prime Minister will enunciate in his speech at Shura Council?

Secretary (East): The Shura Council is a very influential body. It is made up of the top, I would say, intellectual elite in Saudi Arabia and they are nominated by the Al Shura by His Majesty. Therefore, addressing them becomes a matter of great importance, and we would expect that the Prime Minister would try to give an overview of what India's position is on various issues, and also talk about the bilateral relationship and how much importance we place on it.

I thought I could also add a few facts in addition to the opening remarks. For instance, since King Abdullah's landmark visit here in 2006 we have had 19 exchanges at the Ministerial level between our two countries. Similarly, trade has tripled during this time. Saudi Arabia remains very important to us because it is such a big energy partner. I think we now get 20 per cent of our energy imports from Saudi Arabia.

We have talked about having a strategic partnership, and economic engagement is a very important element of this. The fact that such a large Business Delegation is accompanying the Prime Minister; we have expressed our interest not just in energy collaboration but also in fertilizer plants which could be joint ventures. There are many many areas like this which could be identified. I think the scope for investments is very large.

Question: About the Kabul blasts. Could you kindly tell us, Sir, how many Indians have been killed? There are conflicting reports on this. Is any MEA official killed?

Official Spokesperson: What I would like to say is that we are shocked at the inhumane terrorist attack on innocent persons earlier this morning in Kabul. We unreservedly condemn the terrorist attack. Our Mission is in close touch with the Afghan authorities to get factual details. We fear that amongst the casualties and those who have been injured, there are Indian nationals also. Kindly bear with us, we can share with you details only when we have a confirmation. I would like you to know that we are on a real-time basis in touch, coordinating with our Mission which is, as I said, in touch with the Afghan authorities. As soon as we have more details, we will share them with you.

Question: There is an old demand to increase the number of pilgrimage slots from India. Will the Prime Minister talk to the King about increasing the number of Haj pilgrims?

Secretary (East): I believe the number for the Haj pilgrims has been increasing every year. In fact, last year it touched about 167,000 which is the highest it has ever been. So, there has been a steady growth. But I also understand that there is a worldwide demand for more slots for the Haj pilgrims. It would finally be a question of how the Saudi Arabian authorities can equitably distribute the slots which are available. But because we have such a large Muslim population, we do get a very large share of the pilgrimage slots.

Question: A doubt, Madam. Why did it take 28 years since Mrs. Gandhi visited Saudi Arabia for the Indian Prime Minister to go there? Are we expecting something like a Riyadh Declaration on the lines of Delhi Declaration when Saudi King last visited India?

Secretary (East): I think what we should really see is that the momentum of the relationship has stepped up in the last few years. The fact that King Abdullah, after a very long gap of a visit by Saudi royalty to India, came here in 2006 was very significant. The fact that we are returning the visit at the level of our Head of Government within a relatively short gap as compared to the previous years is also significant. As I said, we have had 19 Ministerial visits in between. So, I would say that we should really look at the present and the future in this context.

Question: Madam, what is the status of cooperation with Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism. I believe the Saudi Intelligence Chief did visit India immediately after the Mumbai attacks. So, what is the status of cooperation that we have with Saudi Arabia?

Secretary (East): We certainly do share information with all countries with whom we have friendly relations, and we do have mechanisms in place. You would appreciate that these are matters which cannot always be made public, but certainly we will take up all issues of concern to us in the talks which will take place during this visit.

Question: Would you characterize the cooperation as good, effective, excellent?

Secretary (East): I would say the cooperation is active.

Question: Madam, can you share details of the PM's call-ons with Saudi leaders? I also have a question to Mr. Vishnu Prakash on the Kabul bombing. President Karzai has said that the killing of Indians will not affect India-Afghanistan relations. Do you endorse that?

Secretary (East): What we have indicated so far in the programme confirmed is, of course, his meeting with His Majesty the King, which would be a substantive meeting, as I have said. There would also be delegation-level talks. Several of the top-ranking Ministers will be calling on PM.

Official Spokesperson: As to the second part of your question, I would like to note here that we have historical links, we have civilizational ties with Afghanistan. In recent years the canvas of our ties has broadened, deepened. India has been at the forefront in offering assistance, providing assistance for the redevelopment, for rebuilding of infrastructure in diverse areas to Afghanistan as per the wishes of the people of Afghanistan, as per the wishes of the Government of Afghanistan. Our ties with Afghanistan are strong, are deep, and will remain so. As far as the issue of terrorism is concerned, we as a nation are very clear that we will not allow forces of terrorism to succeed, and we will do everything within our command to ensure that the forces of terrorism are defeated.

Question: Madam, will our Prime Minister be taking up the issue of regional security vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Pakistan? As we know, after the London Conference, Mr. Hamid Karzai has reached out to Saudi Arabia for the reintegration of Taliban. Will we be taking up this issue in this context?

Secretary (East): I believe that such visits will always cover a wide range of subjects. Normally in such visits our leaders brief their counterparts on important developments in the region apart from discussing bilateral ties and international relations. So, I am sure that all these important issues will be covered in the talks.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.


New Delhi
February 26, 2010

Page Feedback


Post A Comment

  • Name *
    E-mail *
  • Write Your Comment *
  • Verification Code * Verification Code