New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud on Tuesday at the start of a day-long visit to the kingdom. Modi, who arrived in Riyadh late Monday, will also hold a separate round of talks with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.
Ties between the two countries have transformed in recent years with Riyadh beginning to refashion its ties with New Delhi in consonance with its Vision – 2030 programme under which Saudi Arabia has chosen eight countries to forge strategic partnerships with. These include India, China, the UK, the United States, France, Germany, South Korea and Japan. Once seen in Pakistan’s corner, Saudi Arabia recently has been seemingly supportive of India’s position on Kashmir. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in February took place two days before the Balakot strike by India, inside Pakistani territory, following the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel. In the aftermath of the Balakot strike, Riyadh was not seen as critical of India’s move.
In an interview to Arab News published on Tuesday, Modi said he believed that that Asian powers like India and Saudi Arabia “share similar security concerns in their neighbourhood."
“In that respect, I am happy that our cooperation, particularly in the field of counterterrorism, security and strategic issues, is progressing very well. My national security adviser just visited Riyadh for a very productive visit," he said.
On Tuesday, India and Saudi Arabia will be signing a dozen pacts aimed at setting bilateral ties on higher growth trajectory. Also on Tuesday, Modi will address the Future Investment Initiative Forum organised by the Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund – the Public Investment Fund. The forum is popularly known as the ‘Davos in the Desert’ and has been hosted by Riyadh since 2017 to project the kingdom as the future investment hub in the region.
Also watch: PM Modi reaches Saudi Arabia, strategic & trade talks top agenda
Ahead of the start of the visit, Mint takes a look at three reasons why this is deemed an important visit.
Energy cooperation: On the energy front, India and Saudi Arabia are expected to sign a pact to build emergency crude reserves that will act as a buffer against volatility in oil prices and supply disruptions for Asia’s third largest economy. India has already built 5.33 million tons of underground reserves in three locations, which can meet about 10 days of the country’s oil needs, according to a government statement in June last year. It now plans two new reserves with a combined capacity of 6.5 million tons, sufficient to cover an additional 12 days. ISPRL (Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited) is to sign an agreement with Saudi Aramco to lease part of the 2.5 million-tonne Padur storage, in southern Karnataka state. Separately, the Middle East unit of India’s top refiner and fuel retailer, Indian Oil Corp is to sign a preliminary deal with Saudi Arabia’s’ Al Jeri company for cooperation in the downstream sector, including setting up fuel stations in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has also expressed interest in picking up the government’s stake in Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL), according to news reports.
In his interview to Arab News, Modi noted that Saudi Arabia is currently India’s second largest supplier of oil – providing about 18 % of its energy needs.“From a purely buyer-seller relationship, we are now moving toward a closer strategic partnership that will include Saudi investments in downstream oil and gas projects," Modi said. “We value the Kingdom’s vital role as an important and reliable source of our energy requirements. We believe that stable oil prices are crucial for the growth of the global economy, particularly for developing countries. Saudi Aramco is participating in a major refinery and petrochemical project on India’s west coast. We are also looking forward to the participation of Aramco in India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves," Modi said.
Launch of the Strategic Partnership Council: A key takeaway of the visit is expected to be the launch of the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council that will be chaired by Modi on the Indian side and by Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on the Saudi side. The Council will “begin a new era of cooperation across sectors", Modi said, in his interview. It would enable regular monitoring of the progress of the strategic partnership. The council will have two parallel mechanisms under it — one to look at political and diplomatic ties and the second to supervise commercial and energy ties. Both the mechanisms will report to Modi and Crown Prince Salman. The first mechanism will be headed by India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Saudi counterpart and the second will be headed by commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his counterpart. the two countries had decided to establish this council during King Salman’s visit to New Delhi in February.
Kashmir: Modi is expected to put forth India’s position on Kashmir at this meetings with both King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman given that the visit comes at a time when India is looking at ways to counter Pakistan’s narrative on the revocation of article 370 of its constitution and integrate Kashmir with the rest of the country. Saudi Arabia is an influential voice in the Islamic world because it houses Islam’s two most revered pilgrimage sites—the Mecca and Medina mosques. More recently, Saudi Arabia is seen to have exerted a moderating influence on Pakistan at fora such as the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva when Islamabad had tried to highlight alleged Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir. For Riyadh, having India on its side will benefit Saudi Arabia, at a time when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is facing criticism from international community for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. The Future Investment Initiative Forum is seen as a prestige event for the crown prince and having Asia’s third largest economy present will add weight to the event that is expected to draw 5,000 participants this year.