India, S. Arabia to sign extradition treaty, other pacts during PM's visit

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New Delhi, Feb.26 (ANI): India and Saudi Arabia are likely to sign on extradition treaty and at least eight other bilateral agreements during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan's visit from Saturday to Monday.

Briefing newspersons here, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Latha Reddy said highlighted the importance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-day State visit to Saudi Arabia which commences on Feb.27. alking about the possibility of two treaties-the Extradition Treaty and on transfer of sentenced persons, Secretary (East) Ms. Reddy, said: "We do expect to sign agreements covering various subjects, but the formal announcements regarding the signing will be made during the visit."

Asked is there any investment fund in the pipeline with regard to Saudi Arabia, she said: "This is also under discussion, and we are hoping that that can also be finalized."

Talking about the kind of perspective that the Prime Minister will enunciate in his speech at Shura Council, Ms. Reddy said: "The Shura Council is a very influential body. It is made up of the top, I would say, intellectual elite in Saudi Arabia and they are nominated by the Al Shura by His Majesty. Therefore, addressing them becomes a matter of great importance, and we would expect that the Prime Minister would try to give an overview of what India's position is on various issues, and also talk about the bilateral relationship and how much importance we place on it."

"I thought I could also add a few facts in addition to the opening remarks. For instance, since King Abdullah's landmark visit here in 2006 we have had 19 exchanges at the Ministerial level between our two countries. Similarly, trade has tripled during this time. Saudi Arabia remains very important to us because it is such a big energy partner. I think we now get 20 per cent of our energy imports from Saudi Arabia," Ms. Reddy added.

"We have talked about having a strategic partnership, and economic engagement is a very important element of this. The fact that such a large Business Delegation is accompanying the Prime Minister; we have expressed our interest not just in energy collaboration but also in fertilizer plants which could be joint ventures. There are many many areas like this which could be identified. I think the scope for investments is very large," she further stated.

Replying to query about the Kabul blasts and seeking clarification on conflicting reports, MEA's official spokesperson Vishnu Prakash, said: "What I would like to say is that we are shocked at the inhumane terrorist attack on innocent persons earlier this morning in Kabul. We unreservedly condemn the terrorist attack. Our Mission is in close touch with the Afghan authorities to get factual details. We fear that amongst the casualties and those who have been injured, there are Indian nationals also. Kindly bear with us, we can share with you details only when we have a confirmation."

Talking about an old demand to increase the number of pilgrimage slots from India and if the Prime Minister will talk to the King about increasing the number of Haj pilgrims, Ms. Reddy: "I believe the number for the Haj pilgrims has been increasing every year. In fact, last year it touched about 167,000 which is the highest it has ever been. So, there has been a steady growth. But I also understand that there is a worldwide demand for more slots for the Haj pilgrims. It would finally be a question of how the Saudi Arabian authorities can equitably distribute the slots which are available. But because we have such a large Muslim population, we do get a very large share of the pilgrimage slots."

Replying to a query why did it take 28 years since Mrs. Gandhi visited Saudi Arabia for the Indian Prime Minister to go there? Are we expecting something like a Riyadh Declaration on the lines of Delhi Declaration when Saudi King last visited India?, Ms. Reddy said: "I think what we should really see is that the momentum of the relationship has stepped up in the last few years. The fact that King Abdullah, after a very long gap of a visit by Saudi royalty to India, came here in 2006 was very significant. The fact that we are returning the visit at the level of our Head of Government within a relatively short gap as compared to the previous years is also significant. As I said, we have had 19 Ministerial visits in between. So, I would say that we should really look at the present and the future in this context."

Asked what is the status of cooperation with Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism, Ms. Reddy said: "We certainly do share information with all countries with whom we have friendly relations, and we do have mechanisms in place. You would appreciate that these are matters which cannot always be made public, but certainly we will take up all issues of concern to us in the talks which will take place during this visit."

Asked if she would characterize the cooperation as good, effective, excellent, Ms. Reddy said: "I would say the cooperation is active."

On being requested to share details of the PM's call-ons with Saudi leaders, Ms. Reddy said: "What we have indicated so far in the programme confirmed is, of course, his meeting with His Majesty the King, which would be a substantive meeting, as I have said. There would also be delegation-level talks. Several of the top-ranking Ministers will be calling on PM."

To a question on the Kabul bombing, and President Karzai's reported statement that the killing of Indians will not affect India-Afghanistan relations, Mr. Vishnu Prakash said: "I would like to note here that we have historical links, we have civilizational ties with Afghanistan. In recent years the canvas of our ties has broadened, deepened. India has been at the forefront in offering assistance, providing assistance for the redevelopment, for rebuilding of infrastructure in diverse areas to Afghanistan as per the wishes of the people of Afghanistan, as per the wishes of the Government of Afghanistan. Our ties with Afghanistan are strong, are deep, and will remain so. As far as the issue of terrorism is concerned, we as a nation are very clear that we will not allow forces of terrorism to succeed, and we will do everything within our command to ensure that the forces of terrorism are defeated."

Replying to a query saying will our Prime Minister be taking up the issue of regional security vis-'-vis Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ms. Reddy said: " I believe that such visits will always cover a wide range of subjects. Normally in such visits our leaders brief their counterparts on important developments in the region apart from discussing bilateral ties and international relations. So, I am sure that all these important issues will be covered in the talks."

During the visit, Prime Minister will have substantive discussions with King Abdullah and several Saudi Ministers will also call on the Prime Minister."

"The Prime Minister will also be interacting with a cross section of the Indian community in Saudi Arabia, which numbers nearly 1.8 million at present, and whose role and contribution for the development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is widely appreciated there."

Prime Minister will undertake a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

During his Feb.27 to March 1 visit, Prime Minister Dr. Singh will be accompanied by his wife Mrs. Gursharan Kaur.

Other members of the Prime Minister's delegation will include Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora, Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma, Minister of State for External Affairs and a number of senior officials.

Saudi Arabia is an important trading and energy security partner. The bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia during 2008-2009 exceeded US$ 25 billion. Many Indian companies are active in Saudi Arabia in various sectors. A 25-member CEOs delegation is also visiting Saudi Arabiam at the time of visit of Prime Minister and will have interactions with their Saudi counterparts to establish mutually beneficial business partnerships. The Prime Minister will address the captains of Saudi businesses and industry during his visit."

The Prime Minister will also address the Shoura Council which is a unique honour bestowed upon select dignitaries. (ANI)

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