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Jaswant Singh's visit to Saudi Arabia next week

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October 14, 2000 


NEW DELHI, OCT 13 (AP) - India's oil security and its concerns over international terrorism will be the focus of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's visit to Saudi Arabia next week, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Singh's Oct. 17-19 visit, the first by an Indian foreign minister in five decades, will boost bilateral relations between the two countries that have so far been very low key.

"Saudi Arabia and India are convinced of the need to have forward looking, long-term bilateral relations. The political will has been expressed by both countries," a senior foreign ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.

India, which imports 25 percent of its petroleum needs from Saudi Arabia, will raise the issue of high global crude prices during Singh's talks with senior Saudi leaders and will try and make them understand New Delhi's concerns about its energy security, the senior official said.

"The minister will raise India's specific concern relating to the energy sector," he said.

The official however refused to say whether India would specifically ask Saudi Arabia to raise its crude output to stabilize high international prices. Saudi Arabia produces as much as 10 percent of the world's crude output.

During the visit, Singh will meet King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, Riyadh Governor Prince Salman and Oil Minister Ali Naimi.

He will also address the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and speak on "India and Saudi Arabia: Partnership for Stability and Security."

For many years, Saudi Arabia leaned towards Pakistan, India's neighboring rival, with whom its shares the strong bonds of Islam. During last year's border conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Saudi Arabia expressed sympathy for Pakistan's position on the disputed territory.

However, officials said, the strong economic interests the two countries share have forced them to re-examine their positions. Singh's visit, the official said, "is a very major political signal."

"In the past, relations between the two countries were conducted through the prism of Pakistan. But now there are clear indications that the two countries can conduct bilateral relations on an independent basis," the official said.

The Indian expatriate community in Saudi Arabia numbers 1.5 million, the largest concentration of Indians living abroad. India is one of Saudi Arabia's largest markets, with New Delhi buying 7.5 million tons of crude oil every year valued at dlrs 750 million and dlrs 700 million worth of petroleum products.

Bilateral trade between the two countries stands at dlrs 3 billion.

Singh will discuss expanding Indian exports to Saudi Arabia beyond the traditional spices and tea. Riyadh has shown an interest in developing cooperation in high-tech areas, especially Information Technology, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications, the official said.

The visit, the first high-level contact between the two countries in two decades, will also be utilized to express India's concern over international terrorism and to create an understanding of India's security concerns.

"We are going to discuss how both countries can cooperate on an issue of concern to both. We will discuss the specific threats of terrorism," the senior foreign ministry official said.

India has been battling an 11-year-old insurgency in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in overwhelmingly Hindu India. More than 26,000 people have been killed since the fighting began in 1989 and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

India accuses Pakistan of fomenting the insurgency and backing it with arms and fighters. Pakistan says its support is only ideological.

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