JEDDAH: Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Jeddah on Friday on a four-day visit to hold wide-ranging talks with Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense. and later with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal.
On his first visit to Saudi Arabia as foreign minister, Khurshid is also expected to have discussions with the Saudi leadership, including Labor Minister Adel Fakeih, on the recent labor regulations announced by the Saudi government that has affected tens of thousands of Indian workers here.
The talks between the two sides will include energy and counter-terrorism issues.
Khurshid said the “relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is bound by several centuries of trade and cultural” links. “In recent years, there has been a regular exchange of high-level visits which are still fresh in the hearts and minds of many Indians, including myself. Our relationship has benefited immensely from the wise leadership of our two countries.”
“Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is a visionary statesman. Under his able leadership the Kingdom has attained considerable growth and prosperity,” Khurshid said. “King Abdullah plays a key role in ensuring peace and stability in the region. His visit to India in January 2006 is a landmark event in the history of India-Saudi relations. The Delhi Declaration signed during the king’s visit to India and the Riyadh Declaration signed during the visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2010 provided a forward looking roadmap and framework for a strategic partnership for our relations.”
He said he will review with Prince Saud the progress the two countries made in implementing the agreements reached during the visit of King Abdullah to India and Prime Minister Singh to Riyadh. “I look forward to having an exchange of views with the leadership of Saudi Arabia on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of common and mutual interest,” said Khurshid.
“I am thankful to King Abdullah for hosting over two million Indians in Saudi Arabia,” said Khurshid. “Indians continue to be the most preferred community in Saudi Arabia for their hard work, discipline and law abiding nature.” (Out of the 8 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia, 2.45 million are from India)
Khurshid said his visit is taking place at a time when the Indian community is engaged in an effort to utilize the three-month grace period announced by the king for expatriates to correct their legal status or return to their motherland without penal action and with dignity. “I look forward to expressing my gratitude to the leadership of this country for adopting a humanitarian approach while streamlining its labor market,” he said. “I urge the Indian community to utilize the grace period effectively,” he said.
Before embarking on the visit, the minister said about 56,700 Indians face deportation in the next one-and-a-half months and 10 officials have been dispatched to Saudi Arabia to help the Indian missions prepare emergency certificates for their exit.
“As of now, 56,700 Indians have registered with the Indian missions for exit permits as they have no valid passports or other travel documents,” said Khurshid.
He said the 10 officials sent to the Kingdom would help the mission to prepare no objection certificates for the Indian workers, adding that it was a “cumbersome procedure as we are required to get details of the worker from the district authorities.”
He said more than 4,000 Indian volunteers are helping the mission to complete formalities, while the mission is working around the clock and has also set up offices in various Saudi cities to help workers fill in forms for the emergency certificates.
The Saudi government has fixed July 3 as the deadline for all foreign illegal workers to leave the country.
Earlier, the Indian prime minister sent Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed and his adviser T.K.A. Nair to the Kingdom to assist Indians without work permits or valid passports.
The Saudi authorities have assured the Indian government that they will not harass Indian workers because of their good behavior, and no one will be penalized or sent to jail for violations of these norms if they leave the country before the deadline. (The Saudi deadline to foreign workers to leave by July 3 comes in the wake of the implementation of Nitaqat or naturalization law that makes mandatory for employers to hire local people in place of expatriates. There are fears that thousands Indian workers in Saudi Arabia face arrest if they are not able to leave by July 3)
Khurshid said he is also going to request an increase in the Haj quota for Indian pilgrims. At present, India sends more than 175,000 pilgrims every year to Saudi Arabia.
Besides the labor issues, counter-terrorism cooperation will also be discussed during Khurshid’s visit.
Khurshid’s talks with Saudi officials will also cover energy security. Saudi Arabia is India’s biggest supplier of oil. New Delhi imports nearly 17 percent of its oil demand from the Kingdom.
(Courtesy Arab News)