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Unprecedented welcome for PM in Saudi Arabia

world Updated: Feb 27, 2010 22:34 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday evening to a historic welcome with the kingdom's crown prince and the entire Saudi cabinet turning up at the airport to receive him.

In an unprecedented gesture, Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Defence Minister, Minister for Civil Aviation and First Deputy Prime Minister, Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister and the Second Deputy Prime Minister, Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Riyadh, and the entire Saudi cabinet set aside protocol and received the prime minister and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the Royal Terminal of the King Khaled International Airport.

It may be recalled that when Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz had visited India in 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had broken protocol to receive the monarch personally at the airport.

On Thursday, as the Prime Minister's cavalcade zipped across from the airport to the city, the entire stretch had Indian and Saudi flags flying.

And in what is going to be yet another significant gesture, the Prime Minister will be officially welcomed by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz at a function on Sunday.

According to official sources, no foreign dignitary has ever been accorded such a welcome.

The Prime Minister and his delegation will also be staying in a palace that has never been opened before and certainly not to any visiting foreign dignitary - the King Saud Guest Palace.

The Prime Minister's visit comes four years after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to New Delhi in 2006 when the latter was honoured as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and the historic Delhi Declaration, charting out a new path of bilateral cooperation across a wide range of fields between India and the largest and most influential Gulf nation, was signed.

Apart from the summit meeting between Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's Minister for Oil and Mineral Resources Ali Al Naimi, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal, and Minister for Commerce and Industry Abdulla Zainal Ali Reza are expected to call on the prime minister.

Among those accompanying Manmohan Singh are Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma, Minister for Petroleum and Gas Murli Deora and Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

Around 10 agreements in the fields of security, science and technology, are expected to be signed between the two sides during the course of the visit that will last till March 1.

Among the major highlights will be the signing of an extradition treaty between India and Saudi Arabia and the setting up of a joint investment fund.

Manmohan Singh is the third Indian prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia.

Soon after independence, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited this Gulf nation in 1956 when he was hailed as a hero here. That was actually a return visit after King Fahd visited India the preceding year.

Then, in 1982, Indira Gandhi visited this country and that was the last visit by an Indian prime minister till now.