By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah held wide-ranging talks with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony in Riyadh Monday.
The talks focused on “a range of bilateral and regional issues” of common concern with special reference to defense cooperation between the two countries.
“The talks with King Abdullah covered several bilateral topics ranging from economy to politics and defense cooperation,” said Antony, adding that he was “extremely happy and privileged” to meet the king. The talks were attended by Prince Salman, minister of defense, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, minister of foreign affairs, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, minister of state and commander of the National Guard, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, deputy minister of foreign affairs.
The Indian officials present at the talks with Antony were Indian Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao, Defense Secretary Shashi K. Sharma, Vice Chief of Army Staff S. K. Singh, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Adm. Satish Soni and Air Vice Marshal M. R. Pawar. Analysts view this first ever visit by the Indian defense minister with a team of senior army, air force and naval officers as a very important development in view the Middle East facing new challenges.
Antony told reporters, after his meeting with the king, that he would be holding comprehensive talks on defense matters with Prince Salman on Tuesday. He pointed out that Riyadh and New Delhi are witnessing “rapidly growing relations” in the fields of politics, economy, energy and many more sectors. “The Middle East region is important for us,” said Antony, while expressing his solidarity with the Kingdom and India’s hope for peace and stability in the region.
Antony stressed the need for closer cooperation in defense as Saudi Arabia and India are on the verge of a significant long-range partnership. The international community will have to jointly fight the menace of terrorism, which is of “grave concern to global peace and stability.”
He singled out terrorism and piracy as major problems facing the region that lies in India’s extended neighborhood. Antony said that problems such as “terrorism and transnational crimes are common concerns the world over.”
“India greatly values its relations with Riyadh,” Antony said, adding, “Now we will strengthen our relations further.”
During his talks with the king, Antony conveyed the greetings of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In turn, King Abdullah sent his greetings to Singh.
Referring to the specific areas of cooperation in defense, a press statement released by the Indian Ministry of Defense said: “Bilateral military cooperation should be boosted by high-level military exchanges, joint training of troops and use of training courses in India.”
India and Saudi Arabia should hold military discussions on perspectives for peace and stability in the Middle East, said the statement released at the time of the minister’s departure from India.
Indian Navy should hold joint exercises and pay visits to Saudi Arabia both in the Red Sea and the Gulf, it said. “One could expect more developments in the defense and security field, as this is a vital component of any strategic partnership,” said a reliable source, on the condition of anonymity.
He said that the Delhi Declaration is a pointer in this direction. “In comparative terms, India is more geographically proximate to Saudi Arabia,” said the source. It is only the Arabian Sea that separates them, he added.
“India and Saudi Arabia may not have a formal defense cooperation agreement, but the two countries have in the last decade enhanced their interaction with their forces holding joint training exercise, particularly in counterinsurgency and mountain warfare techniques,” he noted.
India with its large Muslim population sees Saudi Arabia from the global perspective as the seat of Islam’s two most sacred sites — Makkah and Madinah —to which a large number of Indian Muslims go on pilgrimage annually.
Antony also addressed Indian community members at the Indian Embassy here Monday night. He delivered his speech and then took some questions ranging from defense cooperation to situation in India and instability in Maldives. Ambassador Rao moderated the question-answer session.