Sun, Feb 28, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Indian prime minister visits Saudi Arabia for commercial, security talks

AFP , RIYADH

Terrorism, regional political issues and the sharp rise in bilateral commercial ties will be in focus for talks after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to arrive in Riyadh yesterday, Singh said.

The first Indian prime minister to visit the Middle East power in 28 years, Singh said in an interview published yesterday that he will seek to strengthen bilateral cooperation on fighting terrorism and promoting regional stability.

“India and Saudi Arabia belong to the same extended neighborhood,” he told the local Saudi Gazette.

“During my visit I propose to discuss with King Abdullah how we can promote greater stability and security in the region,” he said.

“Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people,” he said.

“We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security,” Singh said.

The two sides are concerned about al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups with footholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Saudi Arabia wields influence.

Iran’s nuclear drive is also a joint concern, though more nuanced for India which has its own nuclear arsenal.

“Our view is that Iran is a signatory to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]; it is entitled to all the rights that go with its membership of the NPT; and it must also observe all the obligations that go as part of the membership of the NPT,” Singh said.

The US has accused Iran of violating its NPT obligations by seeking to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.

Also on the agenda is the growing economic linkage between the two sides. Bilateral trade is running at more US$25 billion a year, Singh said.

An estimated 1.6 million Indians work in Saudi Arabia, mostly low-skilled workers, who remit several billion dollars back home each year, an important source of foreign exchange for India.

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