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Saudi crown prince in India

February 20, 2019

Saudi Arabia's crown prince has pledged investment and counterterrorism support on his first visit to India. Mohammed bin Salman's visit comes amid tension in the subcontinent after last week's suicide attack in Kashmir.

Narendra Modi greets Mohammed bin Salman at New Delhi airport
Image: Reuters/A. Abidi

India's leader usually sends a junior official to welcome foreign dignitaries. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol Tuesday to personally greet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in New Delhi.

The pair announced on Wednesday that they had signed several agreements to boost bilateral investment, infrastructure, tourism, housing and communications. The crown prince voiced the potential for $100 billion (€88 billion) in investment and vowed to help counter terrorism and cybercrimes through enhanced cooperation. 

Bin Salman said he regarded Indian people as Saudi Arabia’s "friends" and that the two countries had ties dating back centuries.

"Since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends, and they are part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years," he said, seemingly a reference to migrant labor in the Kingdom.

Diplomatic role

The visit to India has been hailed a "new chapter in bilateral relations" by the Indian Foreign Ministry. It comes just days after a suicide bomb attack in the disputed Kashmir territory left dozens of Indian paramilitary police dead.

India has blamed Pakistan for the attack, accusing Islamabad of supporting Kashmir rebels.

Bin Salman, who also visited neighboring Pakistan on the weekend, made no mention of the country in his pledge to help India fight terrorism.

But his office has indicated he was trying to assist in a diplomatic role to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

"Our objective is to try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighboring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully," Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday.

Pakistan has long been an ally of Saudi Arabia, and was criticized last year for attending an investment summit in Riyadh, boycotted by other world leaders over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Read more: Saudi Arabia diplomacy limited by relationship with Islamabad

Saudi Arabia has come under fire over several other issues, namely the country's human rights record  and its role in the conflict in Yemen.

The crown princes is scheduled to leave India for China on Wednesday night, where he is expected to announce further cooperation on Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure developmentinitiative.

Trade boost

Saudi Arabia is India's main supplier of crude oil, and ties are being extended beyond energy to build a strategic partnership, India's Foreign Ministry said last week. Bilateral trade is already worth $28 billion.

The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding over India's National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, signaling Saudi Arabia's commitment to help build ports and highways.

Saudi Aramco's investments also include plans to help build the $44 billion Ratnagiri Refinery, which would become the largest single location refinery complex in the world.

The crown prince on his earlier stop in Pakistan also signed $20 billion in deals, half of this going to an oil refinery in the country's southwest.

nn, jm/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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