Transcript of Special Briefing by Secretary (ER) on upcoming visit of PM to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (October 24, 2019)

October 25, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Friends, Namaskar, good afternoon and very warm welcome to special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia on 29th October, later this month. This special briefing will be followed by my weekly briefing; just to introduce: we have with us Secretary (Economic Relations), Shri T S Tirumurti, who is joined by Jt. Secretary (Gulf), Shri Nagendra Prasad. Secretary (ER) will give his initial remarks first and after that we will take some questions from all of you. Sir, the floor is yours.

Secretary (ER), Shri T S Tirumurti: Friends, thank you very much for coming this afternoon. Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi is paying an official visit to Saudi Arabia on October 29, 2019 at the invitation of King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.

Prime Minister will be attending the third session of the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh on 29th October, 2019 where he will deliver the keynote address. There will also be a bilateral segment to his visit where he will meet His Majesty, the King as well as hold delegation level talks with His Royal Highness, Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister will reach Riyadh late night on October 28, 2019. The next day there will be calls on the Prime Minster by few Saudi ministers. This will be followed by a banquet lunch by His Majesty, the King. Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with His Majesty the King, where the agreement on the Strategic Partneship Council will be signed. There will also be separate delegation level talks with His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Later that afternoon Prime Minister will be addressing the FII Plenary session. This will be followed by a banquet dinner hosted by His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince. Prime Minister will be leaving for Delhi the same night.

The FII is organized by the Kingdom’s Sovereign Wealth Fund – The Public Investment Fund. The forum is also popularly referred to as the Davos in the Desert and is intended to project the Kingdom as the future investment hub in the region.

The first two editions were held in 2017 and 2018. The FII session is organized under the Vision 2030 which is a blueprint for economic transformation of Saudi Arabia through diversification of its oil based economy and is aimed at working alongside global strategic partners and investment manager. Several initiatives are being undertaken by Saudi Arabia to fulfil this vision. Further, Saudi Arabia will also be chairing the G20 next year.

You may be aware that the foundation for a more robust strategic investment was laid during the visit of Prime Minister of India to Saudi Arabia in 2016 when His Majesty, the King also conferred the highest civilian award on him, namely King Abdul Aziz Sash, signifying the importance Saudi Arabia attaches to our relationship. During the recent visit of His Royal Highness, Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to India in February 2019 the relationship received a further fillip when the two sides agreed to establish a higher institutional mechanism of Strategic Partnership Council at the level of Prime Minster and Crown Prince to regularly monitor the progress in furtherance of our strategic partnership. This agreement will be signed during the current visit.

Under its Vision – 2030 Saudi Arabia has selected eight countries for forging strategic partnership. These include India, China, the UK, the United States, France, Germany, South Korea and Japan. Since the visit of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince to India in February 2019 there has been considerable progress in a range of areas.

Our collaboration with Saudi Arabia on the energy front has intensified further and the two sides are set to finalize and move ahead on the west coast refinery in Raigad district of Maharashtra which will involve investments from Saudi’s Aramco, UAE’s ADNOC and Indian public sector oil companies. This will be the single largest Greenfield refinery in India.

We also hope to sign a MoU on a joint venture between Indian Oil Middle East with Al-Jeri Company of Saudi Arabia for downstream cooperation for inter-alia setting up retail outlets in Saudi Arabia. Energy security has been the main area of India’s engagement with Saudi Arabia. We are well on our way to transforming the buyer-seller relationship in this sector into a much larger strategic partnership. We deeply appreciate the fact that they have been meeting our energy requirements on a reliable and sustainable basis. We have also invited the Saudi side to participate in India’s strategic petroleum reserves and we hope to finalize the MoU during this visit.

During the visit we also hope to finalize the investment of Saudi Arabia in our National Infrastructure Investment Fund. We are in the process of finalizing the details. We have signed agreements on general category of workers as well as for the workers under the domestic sector to ensure their welfare by regulating their terms and conditions of employment. The proposed alignment of our respective e-Migrate systems will further provide safeguards on their employment conditions. We hope to launch the integration of our e-Migrate and Saudi portals during this visit.

The bilateral discussion on civil aviation have taken place recently between the two sides and I am happy that there has been a broad agreement to enhance the number of flights between the two countries in phases keeping in mind interest of our carriers. We hope to sign MoU on this enhanced quota during the visit. It will be recalled that we had given an increase of 8000 seats per week in February 2019 during the visit of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince. We are also looking at enhancing cooperation in renewable energy. The Saudi side has earlier invested in a wind energy power project in Bhuj, Gujarat for 300 MW. We will look at enhanced cooperation and hope to conclude a MoU on renewable energy during this visit.

India and Saudi Arabia are looking at closer cooperation in the area of defence industries. We have had the visit of the Saudi General Authority of Military Industry a few months ago where they met representatives of Indian defense industry. Indian defense companies also visited Saudi Arabia subsequently. The first India-Saudi Arabia joint naval exercises will be held towards the end of December 2019 – beginning of January 2020. Needless to say this is a very significant development.

Saudi Arabia is the destination of Indian Muslims who go there for performing annual Haj and Umrah. On the request of Prime Minister Modi, His Majesty, the King has agreed to increase the Haj quota for 2019 from 1,75,025 to 2,00,000. This has immediately been implemented this year itself and we appreciate this gesture. Besides Haj more than three hundred thousand Indians visit for Umrah every year.

Saudi Arabia has released nearly 450 Indian prisoners already as agreed to during the visit of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince to India in February this year. An MoU is likely to be signed during the visit to launch the Rupay card in Saudi Arabia which will be very useful for not only the large Indian community but also Haj and Umrah pilgrims.

India and Saudi Arabia enjoy historic people to people contacts. Saudi Arabia hosts a 2.6 million Indian community which has been living in harmony and contributing to the development and progress of Saudi Arabia. Indians in Saudi Arabia send back remittances to the tune of $11 billion or more annually. India and Saudi Arabia signed during February 2019 MoU on cooperation in the area of tourism. Saudi Arabia has recently opened its door for tourism which will further strengthen these relations. India has extended e-Visa facility to Saudi nationals this year.

In addition to what I have mentioned we also hope to sign MoUs in the areas of diplomatic institute cooperation i.e. between the Foreign Services Institute and Saud Al-Faisal Institute of Diplomatic Studies. In security cooperation and drug-trafficking. This visit will be a short but intense one with several substantive deliverables. It will further cement the strategic partnership we have with Saudi Arabia. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much sir. Now I open the floor to questions.

Question: My question is on terrorism. How much that will be the focus especially the cross-border terrorism and secondly, it’s not a question just confirmation of a fact, Saudi Arabia is the third country in Gulf region to have the Rupay card facility, am I right on this?

Question: Defence cooperation ko dono desh aagey badhaayenge is baare mein aapne jaankaari dii, isko broadly agar bataanaa chaahenge ki kis-kis kshetra mei khaaskar, agar army, navy aur airforce kii baat karein ya fir defence procurement kii baat karein yaa fir is kshetra mein aur jo baatein hone waali hain unke baare mein jaankaari dein.

(You provided information that both countries will further the defence cooperation. If you would like to broadly categories this, which areas will be included especially in terms of army, navy and air force or regarding defence procurement or some other areas in this sector, please provide some information related to this.)

Question: You mentioned that the Strategic Partnership Council MoU is going to be signed. Now who will be part of this council, at what level is this going to be held and when will be the first meeting scheduled?

Secretary (ER), Shri T S Tirumurti: See, as regards terrorism, I think you would have seen the very clear cut references to terrorism in the joint statement which we had issued during the visit of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince in February. You are also aware that Saudi Arabia had condemned the Pulwama terrorist attack and even earlier, if you recall, I think in 2016, they had condemned the terrorist attack in Uri. So I think there is no doubt that both our countries are equally concerned about terrorism and you’d also recall that India itself had condemned the missile and drone strikes on inter-alia the Saudi oil installations and facilities. So therefore terrorism has been an important aspect of our discussions and our cooperation.

Regarding Rupay card, yes you are right, I think it is the third country. You are absolutely right, it was UAE, then Bahrain, in the last visit of Prime Minister we had signed the MoU in Bahrain and this will be the third country where we will have it and its very important particularly in the context of Saudi Arabia to have the Rupay card.

As far as defence cooperation is concerned you know, we already have a defence cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and there is a clear intention on the part of both the countries to take the defence cooperation forward and apart from what I have mentioned to you about the first ever joint naval exercise which is going to take place starting end of the year or beginning of next year. And also the exchange of visits I mentioned on defence industry; India is doing a lot of training as well for Saudi defence personnel. In fact the Saudi Cadet Officers are being trained in the NDA course in Pune and we also have their officers in the NDC in Delhi and also the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.

26 Saudi officers are attending the customized cyber security course in Gujarat at the Gujarat Forensic Science University which is in Gandhi Nagar. And you’d have also seen the last joint statement, there were references to the maritime security and also the fact that they were interested in looking at the security of the Indian Ocean region and keeping in mind the interest of Saudi Arabia in the IOR area we had the Royal Navy Force which visited India in August this year and they went to this information fusion center of the Indian Ocean Region which is being set up by our Indian Navy. So therefore there is definitely a lot of focus on this area and we are hoping that now in the field of defence industries, that we will be able to take this cooperation forward.

The third is on the Strategic Partnership Council, the Strategic Partnership Council will be chaired by the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince and just below the apex we will have two verticals. One of the vertical will be headed by the Foreign Minister – External Affairs Minister. The other one by the Commerce and Industry / Trade Ministers. So those will be the two verticals and below these verticals there will be different joint working groups. I think if you look at it I will be heading one of them from the side of the Foreign Minister’s security, defense and other areas and NITI Aayog will be handling the other aspect relating to economic, trade and investment relations. So this is broadly the structure which we have in mind and as of now we don’t yet have a date on which we will be launching the Strategic Partnership Council but the agreement will be signed during the meeting of Prime Minister with His Majesty, the King of Saudi Arabia.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
I’ll take the next set of three questions.

Question: ……. Inaudible…………

Secretary (ER), Shri T S Tirumurti:
Every two years.

Question: You spoke about bilateral on civil aviation between two sides. Can you elaborate about the seat-sharing and apart from this?

Secretary (ER), Shri T S Tirumurti: They had a meeting, I think on 17th of this month, just last week. They have both agreed or rather we have both agreed to enhance the quota. At this point of time I don’t want to disclose the enhancement, the precise quota but this will be during the visit. We will be announcing the enhancement of quota. But we have taken care of the sensitivities on the part of the Indian carriers and we have been able to happily come to an agreement on the enhanced quota.

Question: Mera sawaal Kashmir ko lekar thaa. Aapko lag rahaa hai Kashmir par India ke saath ek page par Saudi Arabia kab tak dikhaai degaa kyonki beech mein kaafi differences dikhaai dete hain.

(My question was related to Kashmir. How long do you think Saudi Arabia will remain on one page with India on Kashmir because some differences were seen recently?)

Question: Just a sort of add on to this, now we are approaching October 31st, is the PM expected to brief the Saudi King on the latest developments in Kashmir because the Saudi leadership have been briefed earlier also right from August this year, so is that expected to figure prominently during the talks with the Saudi King and the Saudi Crown Prince?

Secretary (ER), Shri T S Tirumurti: See, I don’t want to speculate on what the Prime Minister will be taking up with the Crown Prince but let me assure you that Saudi Arabia has shown understanding on the recent developments vis-à-vis Jammu & Kashmir and I am sure that their stand has had a salutary effect on Pakistan.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I don’t see any other hand. Thank you all for joining.

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