India boosts defence, energy ties with Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP Photo

India and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday set up a Strategic Partnership Council and inked agreements to bolster security cooperation as well as collaboration between defence industries of the two nations.

The Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL) inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Saudi Aramco – the state-owned petroleum company of the kingdom – to fill up half of the 2.5 MMT emergency oil storage facility built in underground rock caverns at Padur in Karnataka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Future Investment Initiative conclave hosted by Saudi Arabian Government in Riyadh. He called upon Saudi Arabian companies to invest in the energy and infrastructure sectors of India. He underlined that his government had set a target of $ 100 billion investment in setting up and expanding refineries, laying oil pipelines and building gas pipelines.

“I want to assure you from this podium that India's growth story will pick up further speed. We are taking every decision in the interest of the growth and prosperity of the nation. There is no flaw in our policy, no lack of certainty in our vision,” Modi said, adding: “Our roadmap to make India a $ 5 trillion economy is ready.”

With Prime Minister meeting King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, India scaled up its relations with the Gulf Kingdom, which has been maintaining close relations with Pakistan.

What added to the significance of Modi's visit to Riyadh is that it comes less than a fortnight after Saudi Arabia hosted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for his second visit to Riyadh within a month. Though Khan Government in Islamabad has been running a global campaign against New Delhi opposing Modi Government's August 5 decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir off the special status and reorganize it into two Union Territories, it failed to nudge Saudi Arabia into criticizing India.

Modi's meeting with King of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday too saw the Gulf Kingdom joining India in condemning “terrorism in all its form and manifestations”, according to Secretary (Economic Relations) at the Ministry of External Affairs, T S Tirumurti.

Prime Minister also discussed with King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia ways to step up defence and maritime security cooperation. India and Saudi Arabia are set to hold the first-ever joint naval exercise soon.

The Strategic Partnership Council set up on Tuesday will be chaired by Prime Minister and Crown Prince. It will regularly “monitor the progress in furtherance of strategic partnership” between India and Saudi Arabia.

New Delhi and Riyadh on Tuesday also inked an MoU to roll out the Rupay card of India in Saudi Arabia. Besides, another MoU was signed to set up a joint venture between Indian Oil Middle East with Al-Jeri Company of Saudi Arabia for downstream cooperation, including setting up retail outlets in the Gulf Kingdom. The two sides also inked pacts for cooperation in the areas of renewable energy and innovation.

The two sides had a discussion on the 60 MMTPA West Coast refinery, which is proposed to come up in Raigad district of Maharashtra with investments from Saudi Aramco, UAE’s ADNOC and public sector oil companies of India. “I am happy that Saudi Aramco has decided to invest in West Coast Refinery Project, which will be the largest refinery of Asia,” Prime Minister said, addressing the Future Investment Initiative conclave. “India has also liberalized norms for investments in downstream sectors and it will enhance the ease of doing business.”

“India does need investments in energy sectors to fuel its rapid economic growth. We invite energy companies here to take advantage of the opportunities in India,” said Modi.

He noted that India had become the 3rd largest start-up ecosystem. “Even in tier-2&3 cities of India startups have come up. Our start-ups have started investing at a global scale. I invite global investors to benefit from our start-up ecosystem,” said Prime Minister.

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