L. Ramnarayan and Shams Ahsan
RIYADH — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here Saturday on his maiden two-day visit to the Kingdom as both countries are set to firm up a raft of pacts to bolster their strategic partnership besides exploring ways to enhance security and counter-terror cooperation.
Prime Minister Modi was received at King Khaled International Airport by Riyadh Emir Prince Faisal Bin Bandar, Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakieh, who is the minister accompanying, Riyadh Mayor Ibrahim Al-Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to India Saud Al-Sati and Indian Ambassador to the Kingdom Ahmed Javed. Other senior military and civil officials were also present.
The Indian leader will hold extensive talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on a range of bilateral issues on Sunday following which both sides are expected to sign a number of MoUs. Separately, he will also meet Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior; and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense.
Combating threat of terrorism and radicalization are expected to figure high on the agenda of the talks between Modi and Saudi leaders.
Riyadh has recently formed a major coalition of 34 Muslim nations to fight terror, particularly Daesh (the so-called IS).
Soon after his arrival here, the Indian leader was driven to the famous Al-Masmak Palace.
Then he had a long interactive session with the workers of L&T at their labor residential complex. L&T is involved in Riyadh metro projects.
Modi is scheduled to meet Saudi women getting trained by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) center. Some 2,000 Saudi women are getting IT training here. And there is a target to train 20,000 Saudi women by 2020.
Later, the prime minister will interact with top Saudi businessmen at the Council of Saudi Chambers.
Among the MoUs expected to be signed include a pact to promote trade and involvement in technological fields as well as security agreements. The most important is the signing of the labor agreement .
India’s ties with Saudi Arabia have been on an upswing over the last two decades based on burgeoning energy ties and both countries may look to move beyond buyer-seller relationship in the sector and go for joint ventures and investment in refineries and oil fields.
In this context, Modi is likely to seek deeper involvement of Indian companies in upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in the Kingdom.
Modi arrived in Riyadh from Washington on the final leg of his three-nation tour that began on March 30 with a visit to Brussels.
Security and counter-terror cooperation between India and Saudi had gotten a boost after then prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Riyadh six years ago during which both countries had elevated their ties to the strategic partnership level. The security cooperation has been improving since then.
Riyadh has close ties with Islamabad and India may raise the issue of Pakistan-based terror groups carrying out attacks on it. Modi had visited United Arab Emirates, another close ally of Pakistan, in August and both sides, in a joint statement, had called on all states to abandon use of terror against other countries which was seen as a message to Islamabad.
Modi is the fourth Indian prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia after Dr. Singh in 2010, Indira Gandhi in 1982 and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956.
There are over 2.96 million Indian nationals working in Saudi Arabia, the largest expatriate community in the country, and Modi is expected to raise issues concerning them during his talks with the Saudi leadership.
Saudi Arabia plans to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure development over the next five years and Modi is likely to pitch for participation of Indian companies in the projects.