India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said on Thursday that his country has friendly relations and “vital stakes” with Gulf states.
In addition to strengthening relations with Southeast Asia, India also has plans for boosting economic and bilateral ties with Gulf states, particularly with Saudi Arabia, Khurshid said in an interview on the sidelines of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdel Aziz’s state visit to New Delhi.
“Maintaining our close ties with the Gulf countries also appears very high on our list of foreign policy [priorities],” Khurshid told with London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat.
“Our intense bilateral dialogue is evident from the fact that in the past nine months, four heads of state or government from these countries [in the Gulf] have visited us,” he added.
The minster highlighted India’s relationship with the Gulf – citing a seven-million strong expatriate workforce and two-way annual trade exceeding $180 billion as examples.
India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in particular extends beyond the latter’s sales of oil and can be seen in Indian mega-conglomerate Tata setting up a Jaguar car plant in the kingdom, and Saudi’s establishment of a research center in Bangalore, Khurshid said.
“We don’t want to build just a buyer–seller relationship based on oil, but rather two-way trade, weaving a basket filled with trade and investments,” he said.
During a recent Joint Commission meeting, Saudi and Indian delegates drew up an agenda aiming to double the country’s two-way trade in five years – but additional work needs to be done to move towards “deeper” economic engagement, including investment, joint ventures and technology transfers, the foreign minister said.
Saudi Arabia’s ties with India and Pakistan – both of which are neighboring rivals –can improve, due to both countries opting to “look beyond their disagreements.”
“Since Saudi Arabia has a close relationship with Pakistan, it was difficult for it to take sides in the India–Pakistan confrontation,” said Khurshid.
“We could say that the Kingdom was in limbo; that it had to choose between two friends. But, over the years, both countries decided to look beyond their disagreements and work towards building their relationship further in the changing world,” he added.
In light of a recent security agreement between the kingdom and India – which includes discussions on counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing – the two countries should extend the agreement to include joint training, production and military exercises, he said, but not in way that stands in the way of existing agreements between the U.S. and Saudi.
“I categorically refused to even consider the idea saying that the US and India have different roles to play. We are indeed supportive of friends of the U.S., but have no inclination or capacity to station our troops or navy where the U.S. has currently engaged its troops,” he said.
Responding to a question on the Syrian crisis, the foreign minister admitted that the Indian government had had limited involvement in diplomatic overtures for a peacemaking deal.
“To be honest, our job in Syria has only been to call on the parties to stop fighting,” he said.
“We have been saying that frequently, and we were invited to the conference in Geneva. The fact is that talking helps and that nothing after talking is bad. We are still saying, ‘Please stop the killing first, and then negotiate,’” he added.
The foreign minister also discussed the Indian government’s stance on Washington’s recent threat to leave Afghanistan without signing a pact with Kabul.
“We think it would not be a good idea for the US to leave Afghanistan at such a critical moment unless the Afghan people want this,” said Khurshid.