Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Wednesday met President Ram Nath Kovind at the Presidential Palace in Delhi during his day-long official visit to India.
The prince, who was accorded a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, said on the occasion that Riyadh wishes to maintain and improve ties with Delhi “for the sake of both countries”.
“With the leadership of the president and the prime minister, I am sure we can create good things for Saudi Arabia and India,” Prince Mohammad said, according to Asia News International.
“I admire PM Modi. He is the elder brother and I am his younger brother,” he added.
Describing Indian people as “our friends”, the crown prince said that Indians have helped build Saudi Arabia for 70 years. “During this trip we will show few examples of work Saudi people did in India,” he said.
Prince Mohammad is accompanied by an entourage of ministers and a delegation of businessmen. He is expected to hold a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed by delegation level talks. According to India Today, the two leaders may discuss ways to enhance defence ties, including holding a joint naval exercise.
Both countries are expected to sign agreements in the fields of tourism, investment, housing and communications today.
The crown prince, known as MBS for short, arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting Pakistan. He was welcomed at the airport by Modi, who embraced him in a characteristic bear hug.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
The two countries’ two-way trade totalled $27.5 billion last year. India describes Saudi Arabia as a “key pillar” of its energy security. It provides about 17 per cent of India’s crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas. The relationship may be more key as a deadline nears for India to comply with United States sanctions against Iran, India’s largest oil provider.
Will MBS talk Pak-India ties?
MBS is also expected to make an effort to defuse simmering tensions between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the attack in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama area last week.
Over 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed in the attack, which has been claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a proscribed organisation. India has alleged that those who planned the attacks had links with the Pakistani state — a charge that Pakistan has vigorously denied. Shortly after the attack, the Pakistan Foreign Office had condemned the attack, saying that it was “a matter of grave concern”.
The crown prince has a delicate balance to strike during his Asia tour, which will also take him to China.
In Islamabad, two government officials — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the issue of the increasing tension with India during his talks with the crown prince. They said that during his visit to New Delhi, MBS was expected to encourage Indian leaders to try to resolve all issues through talks.
Earlier on Tuesday, in a video message, Prime Minister Khan said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week’s suicide bombing.
While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation.
However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded to the prime minister’s offer for an investigation and dialogue over the Pulwama attack with further vitriol.
In a statement that spurned Islamabad’s effort to defuse tensions, New Delhi described PM Khan’s statement that Pakistan itself has been the biggest victim of terrorism as “far from the truth”.
More details to follow.