Manmohan Singh arrives in Oman; to ink 3 pacts

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Muscat, Nov 8 (UNI) In his first ever official visit to the Gulf, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in the Sultanate of Oman today on the first leg of a three-day two-nation tour which will also take him to Qatar for talks with their leaders on several matters of bilateral interests, including energy security, regional and global issues.

On his arrival, Dr Singh was received at the airport by His Highness Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Bin Mohammed Al Said, deputy prime minister of the Sultanate of Oman.

A ceremonial guard of honour was accorded in honour of Dr Singh.

Dr Singh's visit takes place at a time when India is planning to give more economic and strategic weight to its ties with the Gulf region and when the world is looking at the Gulf states afresh in the wake of the global meltdown.

Leaders of western countries have been visiting the region over the last couple of weeks seeking help to tide over the crisis.

In the evening, Dr Singh will have delegation-level talks with the deputy prime minister. The talks will be followed by signing of three agreements.

The deputy prime minister will hold a banquet in honour of the visiting Indian Prime Minister tonight.

A high-level delegation, including Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs N Ravi, is accompanying Dr Singh.

Dr Singh, who will be in Muscat on November eight-nine on the first leg of his visit and Doha on November nine-10, will have delegation-level talks with the leaders of the two countries and also have separate audiences with their rulers.

In both the countries, the Prime Minister will interact with the business community to invite investment in India. He is also scheduled to meet the Indian community. Oman is home to around 5,50,000 Indians.

Dr Singh will also discuss ways in which India could assure their safety and welfare in a better way.

India and Oman are likely to sign an MoU for a fund to create seed capital for infrastructure projects in both the countries during the visit of Dr Singh.

The Times of Oman, quoting Mr Anil Wadhwa, India's Ambassador to the Sultanate, said India and Oman would sign three key pacts during the course of the visit.

The two sides are likely to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for creating the India-Oman Fund, he said.

The second is a manpower agreement between Oman's Ministry of Manpower and India's Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

The third agreement would be signed between the foreign service training institutes of the two countries.

Dr Singh will hold talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said tomorrow on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including energy security, economic ties and the international financial crisis.

A number of other issues will also come up for discussion. The proposed India-AGCC free trade agreement is also expected to come up for discussion.

In addition, they would also review the regional situation and the global financial crisis, Mr Wadhwa said.

Bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to cross the 2 billion dollar mark by the end of this year. Ahead of the Prime Minister's visit, Oman had invited Indian investments, particularly in the newly-established 'Free Zones' which offer a number of privileges.

India and Oman are expected to soon launch a 100 million dollar joint investment company on equal partnership basis to facilitate cooperative projects in various sectors through investments.

''The potential is very high for expanding business cooperation,'' said Oman's Ambassador to India Humaid Al Maani in New Delhi yesterday.

This is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Oman in a decade. The last Prime Minister to visit was Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998.

The Prime Minister will return to India on Monday evening.

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