Riyadh, Jan 23: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah was a "great friend" of India, a country he once called his second home, as it was under his rule that the foundation for the bilateral strategic partnership was laid and ties gained momentum.
King Abdullah, 90, passed away today and was succeeded by his 79-year-old half-brother Salman as the new ruler. "During King Abdullah's rule, the foundation for the India-Saudi Arabia strategic partnership was laid and bilateral ties gained momentum as reflected in the Delhi Declaration (2006) and Riyadh Declaration (2010)," India's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Hamid Ali Rao told PTI.
He made a historic visit to India in January 2006 as the Chief Guest of Republic Day celebrations and the trip opened a new chapter in the Indo-Saudi bilateral relations.
King Abdullah was the first Saudi king to visit India in 51 years. During the visit, King Abdullah referred to India as his "second home" and signed the 'Delhi Declaration', the first such bilateral document ever inked by a Saudi King which provided a comprehensive road map for bilateral relations.
The reciprocal visit by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia in 2010 raised the level of bilateral engagement to 'strategic partnership' and the 'Riyadh Declaration' signed during the trip captured the spirit of enhanced cooperation in the realms of politics, economy, security and defence.
"Bilateral trade increased enormously...he (King Abdullah) signed the Delhi Declaration during his visit which elevated our relations to a new height so it was during his time that the India-Saudi Arabia relations strengthened very much," Indian Consul General in Jeddah B S Mubarak told PTI.
"He (King Abdullah) is definitely a great friend of India. He considered India to be very close to his heart. The number of Indians that we have now here -- 30 lakhs (the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia), it is all because of his policies," he said.
Saudi Arabia's new King Salman visited India last year during which the two countries signed a defence cooperation pact to take their strategic partnership further in areas of security.
In recent years, there has been significant progress in bilateral cooperation in key areas of mutual interest, including energy security, trade and infrastructure development projects.