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In a first, Antony goes to Saudi Arabia on key defence visit

Saturday February 11, 2012 06:03:25 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: As part of India's larger geopolitics and global security strategy, A.K. Antony will pay a two-day visit from Monday to Saudi Arabia, the first ever Indian defence minister to visit the kingdom.

During his stay in Saudi Arabia, India's key energy security partner, Antony will carry out a security dialogue aiming to provide a major boost to the two countries' defence cooperation.

The dialogue will go beyond the two nations' existing defence cooperation arrangement in the field of training exchanges, port visits by each other's warships and high-level military delegation visits.

"This is going to be the first ever visit by an Indian defence minister to Saudi Arabia," said a defence ministry spokesperson.

Antony will be accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Indian Army vice chief Lt. Gen. S.K. Singh, Indian Navy deputy chief Vice Admiral Satish Soni and Indian Air Force's Air Vice Marshal M.R. Pawar.

Antony will hold discussions with Saudi Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and meet other leaders, the spokesperson said.

Antony's visit is expected to facilitate discussions on areas where such cooperation can be expanded, hold talks on regional security issues such as terrorism and piracy.

Antony will also be interacting with representatives of the about two-million-strong Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia.

India and Saudi Arabia may not have a formal defence cooperation agreement, but the two countries have in the last decade enhanced their interaction with their militaries holding joint training exercise, particularly in counter-insurgency and mountain warfare techniques.

Their navies too cooperate, with bilateral port visits as also in the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Saudi Arabia is a very important nation from India's perspective, as it is a key member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and one of the top oil exporting countries.

India with its large Muslim population sees Saudi Arabia from the global perspective as the seat of Islam's two most scared sites -- Mecca and Medina -- to which a large number of Indian Muslims go on pilgrimage annually.

Saudi Arabia also has one of the largest concentrations of non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin, who go there in search of livelihood and contribute heavily in terms of foreign remittances.

Antony hails from Kerala, which probably has sent the largest number people to Saudi Arabia as work force.






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