Indian PM Modi begins visit to Saudi

RIYADH, April 2, 2016 (AFP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived Saturday in Saudi Arabia where he will discuss energy, security, and trade cooperation with leaders of the world’s largest crude exporter.

India, which imports around 80 percent of its oil needs, is keen to take advantage of low crude prices by signing overseas deals that will help secure supplies to meet its growing demand.

“Almost 20 percent of our crude supplies come from Saudi Arabia,” Indian foreign ministry official Shri Mridul Kumar said ahead of the visit.

“We have to make sure that this supply continues. And this is one of the key agenda points that Prime Minister will be discussing with King Salman,” he added.

The Saudi Press Agency reported Modi’s arrival but gave no immediate details on the visit.

Kumar said Modi was also expected to discuss means “to ensure the well being” of 2.96 million Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia who send over $10 billion in remittances every year.

Modi will meet members of the Indian community and visit a workers’ residential complex on Saturday.

Indian officials will discuss the Muslim hajj to ensure that it will take place smoothly. A stampede at the annual pilgrimage in September killed more than 2,000 pilgrims, including 116 Indians.

Muslim pilgrims have blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor Saudi management of the flow of hundreds of thousands of people, who found escape routes blocked when the crush occurred.

Security cooperation is also expected to be on the agenda of the talks, Kumar said, describing the visit as “very important”.

Saudi Arabia and the US Treasury this week announced joint sanctions on four individuals and two organisations with alleged links to Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) — which India blames for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

Among those sanctioned was Saudi-based Muhammad Ijaz Safarash, who allegedly provided financial, material, or technological support for the Pakistan-based militant group LeT.

Modi will meet Saudi business leaders on Sunday to discuss bilateral investment.
“Saudi Arabia is our fourth largest trading partner” with exports to the kingdom exceeding $11 billion, said Kumar.

Modi’s right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014 promising to revive India’s economy and create much-needed jobs.

Modi has bolstered ties with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He visited the UAE in August, the first such trip by an Indian premier in more than three decades.
Some eight million Indians live in GCC states and send home each year remittances of around $35-40 billion, said Kumar.