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Riyadh/New Delhi, Feb 15 India and Saudi Arabia have looked at ways to enhance bilateral ties during the two-day visit of Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony and have decided to form a joint committee on defence cooperation to work out the contours of the relationship.

Saudi Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Tuesday met Antony in the presence of Deputy Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz.

This was the first time an Indian defence minister has visited Saudi Arabia.

“To give a boost to the defence ties between the two countries, India and Saudi Arabia have decided to set up a Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation to work out the contours of the relationship,” Indian defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said Wednesday in New Delhi on the delegation’s return to India.

“The decision was taken at the delegation level talks between the two countries in Riyadh on Tuesday,” he added.

Antony was accompanied by a high-level delegation that included Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Indian Army vice chief Lt. Gen. S.K. Singh and Indian Navy deputy chief Vice Admiral Satish Soni.

The proposed joint committee, Kar said, will evolve plans for cooperation in numerous areas, including defence cooperation, high level reciprocal visits at all levels – political, official and the three armed forces, ship visits and conducting passage exercises during such visits.

The committee will also explore the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in hydrography, increased participation of both sides in training programmes, and examine the possibility of cooperation in defence industries.

Antony’s suggestion for the visit of a delegation from Saudi Arabia to see Indian defence production facilities in the near future was agreed to by Prince Salman. He also accepted an invitation from Antony to visit India later this year.

Expressing concern at the spread of piracy in the Indian Ocean region, India suggested that the navies of the two countries could explore practical cooperation in the fight against piracy and that the Royal Saudi Navy play an active role in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) construct. The Saudi defence minister readily accepted the suggestions.

Reviewing the security situation in the Gulf region, the two sides agreed that all issues need to be settled through peaceful dialogue.

During their meeting, the two sides made an in-depth review of aspects of cooperation between the two countries and ways of enhancing bilateral ties.

In a statement later, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz hailed Saudi-Indian relations as deep-rooted, and highlighted the visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to India in January 2006. The king is also the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

The visit, Prince Salman said, boosted cooperation between the two countries and strengthened the partnership in the framework of mutual interest and close ties, reported saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Prince Salman stated that the visit of King Abdullah culminated in the signing of several agreements which furthered these relations.

“Moreover, the meeting of the Saudi-Indian Joint Committee last month provided ample evidence of the firm desire to continue booting these relationships for the benefit of the two friendly countries,” he added.

Antony said his visit to Saudi Arabia was important for promoting cooperation between the two countries.

He also stressed the Indian government’s keenness to strengthen relations with the kingdom.

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