POST TIME: 20 February, 2019 01:46:03 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 20 February, 2019 04:18:53 PM
Saudi crown prince lauds centuries-old ties with India
Independent Online/ AP

Saudi crown prince lauds centuries-old ties with India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a hug, as Indian President Ram Nath Kovind stands beside them during a ceremonial welcome in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Photo: AP

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday said his visit to India will improve centuries-old ties, which he said are "in our DNA."

In brief remarks at the president's palace where he was given a ceremonial welcome, the crown prince did not make any reference to rising tensions between India and Pakistan.

He arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting Pakistan, which New Delhi blames for a suicide bombing last week that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir.

Prince Mohammed is due to hold talks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the two sides are expected to sign agreements for promoting investment, tourism, housing and communications.

The countries' two-way trade totaled $27.5 billion last year.

Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish Pakistan for the suicide attack. India placed the blame for the bombing squarely on neighboring Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.

The crown prince said on Wednesday that "since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends, and they are part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years."

These relations would improve for the sake of both countries, he told reporters.

His trip to India comes five months after he came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

In keeping with a long-standing policy of not commenting on countries' internal affairs, India declined to take a position on the Washington Post columnist's killing by suspected Saudi agents at the consulate.

India describes Saudi Arabia as a "key pillar" of its energy security. It provides about 17 percent of India's crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.

The relationship is likely to become more significant as a deadline nears for India to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, one of India's main oil providers.

Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.

Prince Mohammed will return home later Wednesday, according to India's External Affairs Ministry.