Saudi Crown Prince’s first visit to India this month, but after trip to Pak
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is set to make his first visit to India this month, with energy security and investments expected to top the agenda of his meetings with the Indian leadership, people familiar with developments said.
The 33-year-old prince, often referred to by his initials MBS, is expected to travel to Pakistan on February 16. He will then go to Malaysia before travelling to New Delhi in the fourth week of February, two people familiar with plans for his tour to the region said.
The decision to include a stopover in another country after his visit to Islamabad is aimed at indicating that Saudi Arabia is not hyphenating its ties with India and Pakistan, the people quoted above said.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has been working behind the scenes to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, is also expected to travel to India this month.
Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the two top suppliers of crude to India, and the kingdom has been eyeing a larger share of the country’s oil market since the US slapped sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, both important sources of energy for India.
The kingdom is keen to attract Indian investments in its Qiddiya entertainment city, a planned 334 sq km hub with amusement and theme parks and race tracks, while the Indian side has sought Saudi investments in sectors ranging from energy to manufacturing.
Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner after China, the US and the UAE. Bilateral trade increased 9.56% to $27.48 billion during 2017-18, with India’s imports accounting for $22.06 billion, an increase of 10.50% over the previous fiscal, while exports to Saudi Arabia were worth $5.41 billion, an increase of 5.88%.
There has been considerable interest in the crown prince’s planned visit to Pakistan, with reports suggesting deals worth about $14 billion will be inked during the trip. Saudi Arabia agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support and a loan of $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh last October to stave off an economic crisis.