Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Saudi Arabia as part of his three-nation trip from
March 30 during which he will also visit Washington to attend Nuclear Security Summit, where his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif is also scheduled to be present.
Starting his visit with Belgium on March 30 for India-EU Summit, Modi will travel to Washington for NSS from March 31 before his two-day bilateral visit from April 2 to Saudi
Arabia, one of the most powerful Arab countries, where he will hold talks with the Saudi leadership on key regional and bilateral issues, including trade and energy.
His visit, which comes nearly six years after last Prime Ministerial visit to Riyadh, assumes significance given the current regional situation and strained ties between SA and Iran, another strategically important country for India.
Apart from being India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one fifth of its need, it is also India’s fourth largest trading partner. Saudi Arabia has the largest Indian diaspora.
The Prime Minister’s visit to SA will be preceded by a trip to Washington for NSS, which will be attended by leaders from nearly 50 countries, including Pakistan’s Sharif.
While officials are tight-lipped about a possible interaction between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the event, experts feel that given both the leaders have held impromptu meetings in the recent past — be it in Paris or Lahore — it will be difficult for them to avoid each other completely.
This would be the first time after Modi’s unannounced and brief visit to Lahore on December 25 that the two leaders will be at the same place.
Since then, the Pathankot terror attack has happened which has delayed the Indo-Pak Foreign Secretary-level talks, scheduled to take place in early January after the two
countries announced resumption of comprehensive talks during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad in December last.
In Belgium, the Prime Minister will be attending the India-EU Summit after a gap of four years. The last Summit had taken place in 2012.
India-EU ties witnessed some strain after the 28-member bloc had not responded to India’s proposal for a brief visit by Modi to Brussels, the EU headquarters, during his trip to France, Germany and Canada in April last year. This had prompted New Delhi to give a cold shoulder to the EU’s efforts to finalise Modi’s visit last November when he travelled to the UK.
Efforts were also on to work out issues and announce resumption of stalled India-EU free trade talks during Modi’s visit.
Top officials of India and the EU met last week in Brussels to review the stalled negotiations with an aim to assessing where both sides stand and how they could go forward with the proposed pact, officially dubbed as Bilateral Trade and Investment agreement. The last round of trade talks happened in May 2013.
In August 2015, India deferred the talks on the FTA after the EU imposed ban on 700 products, clinically tested by GVK Biosciences.