Saudi Arabia one of India's most important strategic partners: PM Modi

India, Saudi Arabia to form a joint task force for the West Coast refinery project

September 11, 2023 01:37 pm | Updated September 12, 2023 08:57 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, during the signing of Minutes of First Meeting of India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on September 11, 2023.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, during the signing of Minutes of First Meeting of India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on September 11, 2023. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Two days after the launch of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday described Saudi Arabia as “one of the most important strategic partners of India”. The exchange between the two sides took place during the state visit of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia when they agreed to set up a joint task force to fast-track the West Coast refinery project. The state visit of the Crown Prince is significant as it comes months after Saudi Arabia ended hostility with Iran through a deal that was negotiated by China.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the most important strategic partners of India. As two of the world’s fastest growing countries, our partnership is important for the stability of the entire region. Yesterday, we took the historic step to connect India, West Asia and Europe through an economic corridor. Apart from connecting the two countries, the corridor will help in the increase of economic growth, energy sector and digitisation,” said Mr. Modi, conveying India’s gratitude for the Kingdom’s initiatives to ensure welfare of the resident Indian expats. Mr. Modi and Prince Bin Salman co-chaired the first meeting of the India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) which was set up in October 2019.

The state visit of the Crown Prince has additional importance as it took place weeks after Saudi Arabia became a member of the BRICS during the Johannesburg summit. The discussion focused on defence, energy, security, education, technology, transportation, healthcare, tourism and culture, space and semiconductors as areas of possible cooperation. 

Trilateral project

“Both sides extended full support to the West Coast refinery project — which is a trilateral project between ARAMCO, ADNOC and Indian companies — for which $50 billion are already earmarked. The new thing that has come up is that the two sides agreed to set up a joint task force to help in identifying and channelising the $100 billion investment which was actually promised by the Saudi side half of which was for the refinery,” said MEA Secretary Ausaf Sayeed announcing that Delhi and Riyadh would upgrade energy ties to “comprehensive energy partnership”. He said a monitoring committee would be set up to ensure the refinery project remained on the fast-track. Both sides agreed to work on the India-GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), said Mr. Sayeed. Crown Prince Bin Salman had visited India in February 2019 when Saudi Arabia had pledged to invest $100 billion and the investment into the energy project was first mooted during that initiative. 

Among the eight agreements that were sealed included one between the Central Vigilance Commission of India and the Saudi Oversight and Anti Corruption Authority and another between the Saudi and Indian Exim Banks. The National Institute of Technology of India and the Saline Water Conversion Corporation of Saudi Arabia signed an agreement during the visit. The National Archives of India and King Abdulaziz Foundation of Saudi Arabia also sealed a pact that will lead to greater collaboration in the field of archival research and conferences, said Mr. Saeed. After the meeting in Hyderabad House with Mr. Modi, Prince Bin Salman called on President Droupadi Murmu and attended a banquet dinner hosted in his honour. 

A joint statement issued at the end of the visit mentioned that the Saudi side had assured India that it would remain a “reliable partner and exporter of crude oil supplies”. The document mentioned that the two delegations “welcomed the expansion of the private sector in the two countries to enter into investment partnerships in the agricultural and food industries”. The joint statement stressed on strengthening cooperation in the field of defence and anti-terror cooperation and made a special mention of preventing access to “missiles and drones” to carry out terror attacks. Indicating the ongoing reforms in Saudi Arabia, the joint statement mentioned that two sides discussed plans to strengthen the tourism segment of bilateral relation. 

The two delegations also discussed Yemen and Afghanistan during the official talks, the joint statement informed. Saudis expressed gratitude to India for extending humanitarian assistance to the war-affected people of Yemen. Afghanistan, the two teams said, should have a government that will “represent all spectrums of the Afghan people”.

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