At a time when diplomatic receptions are a rarity, both External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval attended Saudi Arabia’s national day, reflecting the importance attached by India to its ties with the kingdom.
Besides Jaishankar and Doval, the event held at the Saudi embassy on Wednesday evening was also attended by minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
This was only the second diplomatic reception held by a major embassy in the wake of coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-related restrictions, with the other being the national day event hosted by the Afghan embassy.
While the NSA has attended both the Afghan and Saudi national day receptions in recent years, it is rare for both him and the foreign minister to join the same reception.
The last time an external affairs minister had attended a diplomatic reception was in 2018, when late Sushma Swaraj had joined an event at the Russian embassy as the chief guest.
In a message posted on Twitter, Jaishankar had extended greetings to his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud and the government on the national day. “Our expanding cooperation across so many sectors reflects the intrinsic strength of our ties. Look forward to further advancing our Strategic Partnership,” he said.
Addressing Wednesday’s reception, Saudi envoy Saud Al-Sati said the kingdom valued India as a “close friend and an important strategic partner”, and the socio-economic engagement and strategic partnership between the two sides is based on mutual respect and shared interests.
“Through the mechanism of the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC), we are working on further strengthening our partnership and deepening our friendship … In the beginning of 2020, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had awarded 41 new foreign investment projects to Indian investors,” he said.
The ambassador said there is huge untapped potential in merchandise trade, particularly non-oil trade, and the two sides are enhancing cooperation in the commercial, investment and technological fields. “Current bilateral trade of approximately $34 billion will surely continue to grow,” he said.
In recent years, India has ramped up its cooperation with Saudi Arabia, one of the country’s top two suppliers of energy, in fields ranging from security to technology.
Saudi Arabia is home to 2.6 million Indians, the largest expatriate community in the kingdom.