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Monthly digest of official Indian statements on the Middle East

Saudi Arabia

1. Amendments in the Air Services Agreement between India and Saudi Arabia, 17 September 2009 (Cabinet Decision)

India and Saudi Arabia have a history of fruitful political and economic relationship, which has been mutually beneficial for both the countries and can be developed further. The progressive growth of the air services between our two countries has greatly facilitated enhancement of this relationship. With a view to have detailed discussions in matters relating to the air services between India and Saudi Arabia and to widen the field of aviation, bilateral air services consultations between two countries were held on 23rd January, 2008 and both sides agreed to modernize the existing Air Services Agreement (ASA) signed on 26th April, 1973. In the modernized ASA, articles on co-operative marketing arrangements and Aviation Safety have been introduced. Also, now each side can designate one or more of their carrier to operate agreed services between the two countries. This modernized ASA has the potential to spur greater trade investment, tourism and cultural exchange between the two countries besides bringing it in tune with the developments in the international civil scenario.

Source: Press Information Bureau, New Delhi,

2. Government approves amendments in ASA between India and Saudi Arabia, 17 September 2009
The Government today (17 September) has given its approval to the amendments in the Air Services Agreement (ASA) between India and Saudi Arabia. ASA between India and Saudi Arabia was last signed on 26 April 1973, following which bilateral air services talks between the two countries were held from time to time to review air services matters. The last round of such talks was held on 23 January, 2008 at Jeddah.

Both the countries are allowed to operate with multiple designations. For the designated Indian carriers, the points of call in Saudi Arabia are – Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Medina. For Saudia, the points of call are – Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Cochin, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Calicut and Lucknow. The capacity entitlement is 75 services per week with any aircraft subject to maximum capacity of 20,000 seats in each direction.

As per the Summer schedule of 2009, Saudi Arab Airlines fly 39 services per week – 9 to Mumbai, 5 to Hyderabad, 7 to Delhi, 5 to Chennai, 4 to Kochi, 2 to Bangalore, 4 to Calicut and 3 to Lucknow. Air India flies 46 services per week – 16 services/week to Riyadh, 14 to Jeddah and 16 to Dammam.

The last round of bilateral air services consultations with Saudi Arabia were held on 23 January, 2008 at Jeddah. The salient features of the MoU signed, are as follows:

• The provision of the incorporation of ‘multiple designation clause’ has been agreed and, therefore, each side can now designate any number of airlines as they wish.
• The capacity entitlement for the designated airline of each side has been enhanced from the existing 8,500 seats/week with frequencies not exceeding 31 services to 20,000 seats/week with frequencies not exceeding 75 services per week.
• Bangalore, Calicut and Lucknow were granted additional points of call for the Saudi designated carriers apart from the existing Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Cochin and Hyderabad.
• Medina has been granted as additional point of call for India designated carrier apart from the existing Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.
• The capacity to be operated by the Indian designated carriers to/from Dammam, for which an open sky policy has been declared by the Government of Saudi Arabia, shall not be counted against the capacity entitlements available to the Indian carriers.
• Both sides have also agreed for the open sky with regard to all cargo services with full third and fourth freedom traffic rights.

Source: Press Information Bureau, New Delhi,


3. Shri. Ravi Thapar appointed Ambassador of India to Lebanon, 9 September 2009

Shri Ravi Thapar (IFS: 1983), presently Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, has been appointed as the next Ambassador of India to Lebanon in succession to Smt. Nengcha L. Mukhopadhaya. He is expected to take up his assignment shortly.

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi,

4. Minister of External Affairs Met Minister Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt in New York, September 24 2009

The official engagements of External Affairs Minister on 24 September 2009 in New York began with a bilateral meeting with H.E. Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt in the morning. The two leaders discussed bilateral and international issues of mutual concern.

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi,

Multilateral Issues

5. Address by EAM at the Editors Guild meeting in New Delhi, 10 September 2009

I would like to note that we have vital interests in West Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe… West Asia is critical to our energy security and economic well being. The sheer volume of remittances coming from the region and our increasing trade with the countries of West Asia should make this obvious. Naturally we have an interest in the stability of the Gulf and the peaceful resolution of the Iranian question.

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi

6. Interview: Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs “India-GCC free-trade agreement is not a far-off dream” By Huma Siddiqui, 11 September 2009 

India has for long shared excellent bilateral relations with the Gulf countries and Africa, with the total trade volume between Africa and India valued at $35 billion in 2008-09. In an interview with FE’s Huma Siddiqui, Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs, talks about various projects in these regions that India is involved in, the investment opportunities in African countries and the vital role that gas plays in India’s relationship with the Gulf countries. Excerpts:

Q: As the minister in charge of the Gulf and Africa, are you satisfied with the current relations with these regions, both politically and in terms of trade?
India has enjoyed a deep and time-tested relationship with these regions. We share excellent bilateral relations with all countries of these regions and in the contemporary setting, these relationships have been buttressed by mutual interests in several areas, including movement of professionals, aspects of energy and food security and trade and investment. Our cultural affinities are also well known.

India ‘s trade with North African countries has been growing at a rapid pace and the total trade between India and these countries exceeded $8 billion in 2008. With the discovery of oil and gas in the Gulf, and more recently in Egypt, Sudan and the Maghreb, Arab countries have become vital to India‘s energy security needs, even as India and Africa discover new areas for exchanges and cooperation. Indian companies have secured concessions in Sudan, Egypt and Libya. Less publicised perhaps, is the enormous importance of countries such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria to India‘s food security as providers of rock phosphate, phosphoric acid and potash, all of which are fertiliser inputs.

India and Africa both share a historic relationship, which has grown into a sustainable partnership. We have a long-standing, close and multi-layered relationship with Africa and our partnership encompasses priority sectors integral to the developmental goals of Africa in the 21st century. The first ever India-Africa Forum Summit, held in New Delhi in April 2008, was convened in partnership with the African Union. The Delhi Declaration and the Africa-India Framework for Cooperation, adopted at the summit, highlights our shared political vision and compatible world views and provides a solid foundation for a systematic and stepped-up engagement in the years to come.

Human resources development and capacity-building have also been an integral part of our partnership. Several thousand African nationals have studied in Indian universities and received training under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme in various disciplines. The government is also committed to enhancing the Aid to Africa budget of the external affairs ministry in order to implement projects in critical areas focusing on human resource development and capacity building. Over the next 5 to 6 years, we propose to undertake projects against grants of $500 million. India has already offered developmental assistance through lines of credit (LoCs) worth $2.15 billion from 2003-04 to 2008-09. Over the next five years, we plan to spend $5.4 billion in additional LoCs for infrastructure development in African countries.

An important programme launched earlier this year was the Pan-Africa e-Network project, which provides tele-medicine and tele-education facilities in association with speciality hospitals and major universities in India, by linking them with major hospitals and universities in Africa. Forty two countries have already joined this project.

While our trade with Africa stood at $3 billion in 2000-01, it amounts to $35 billion in 2008-09. But we don’t believe that is enough. The public-private partnership, which the government has been adopting together with the Indian private sector, has seen several initiatives, like the organisation of regional conclaves in India, as well as in African capitals. This has led to Indian companies making investments in core sectors in Africa, like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, IT, health, infrastructure and industry.

Q: With the GCC splitting, the India-GCC FTA now seems a far-off dream. What are your views?
The canvas of the relationship between India and the Gulf countries is not only organic but also comprehensive and dynamic. FTAs are very heavily discussed agreements, which in various cases have taken time. The India-GCC FTA is no exception. We have already completed two rounds of discussion on this FTA and expect further movement. The fact that the discussions on this subject are underway points to the fact that this is not a far-off dream. Also, the GCC, as a body, is evolving. They are dealing with several issues among their members, including currency, taxation etc. In view of this fact we may expect the India-GCC FTA discussions to evolve further. Also, since the GCC is extremely important as our trading and business partner, we expect this FTA to further boost this relationship and develop new facets.

The Arab views India as a new partner. However, there is no concrete proof of their investments here. How do you propose to change this attitude?

It is incorrect to say there is no Arab investment in India. There is, and the UAE alone has invested some $45 billion in our markets. We are working with Indian trade and industry to promote investment flows. For example, in February 2002, the government divested 74 per cent out of its 100 per cent equity in Paradeep Phosphate Limited (PPL) to Zuari Maroc Phosphate Limited (ZMPL), a joint venture company with a 50-50 equity share between the Zuari India Limited (ZIL) of Birla Group, India and the Office Cherifian Phosphates (OCP) of Morocco. The 74 per cent equity of Paradeep Phosphate Limited, sold to Zuari Maroc Phosphate Limited, was valued at Rs 15.172 billon.

Q: What are the other steps required to further strengthen our relations with the African continent? How do we plan to strengthen our economic diplomacy with them?
We are renewing our efforts in Africa with the purpose of developing our economic relations further. Trade is a two-way street. In order to provide greater access to the under-developed countries from Africa to markets in India, the government had unilaterally extended the Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme in 2008. Some 34 countries in Africa stand to benefit under this scheme, which allows them to export their commodities duty free to India and thus boost their exports.

We have also encouraged our industry to seize investment opportunities available in African countries in infrastructure development, mineral exploration, IT education and other key areas. Joint ventures have been set up in pharma, iron and steel, vehicle assembly and textile sectors. The possibilities of entering into agricultural farming ventures are being explored by interested Indian groups.

India has a wide ranging commitment to Africa and is striving to accomplish the objectives set forth in our various bilateral understandings. Egypt has emerged as a significant investment destination, with Indian investments estimated at over $500 million. A few Indian companies are also exploring possibilities of setting up plants to manufacture phosphoric intermediates in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Jordan. We are also examining the possibilities of working together with Syria in this regard. Besides the hydrocarbon and fertiliser sectors, Indian companies have either executed, or are in the process of completing, a variety of projects, including those financed by concessional lines of credit. Examples include a thermal power plant in Sudan, a cement plant in Djibouti, an architecturally complex bridge in Jordan and a variety of projects in Libya. India hi-tech companies are also active in the continent.

Q: Are we looking at more gas from Qatar?
(At a commercial level, a few deep-water pipelines are being planned).
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and thus we require more energy for our development and growth. It has been my endeavour to work towards energy security. This aspect is evident, especially in our relationship with the Gulf countries, which together provide 70 per cent of our total crude requirement and play a key role in our energy security. India is also one of the largest importers of crude oil and gas and the Gulf countries are the largest suppliers. A large number of power plants, especially ULPP, are designed on gas. Therefore our requirement of natural gas as well as LPG is bound to increase. Qatar is one country in the Gulf region which has very huge proven gas reserve. Therefore gas plays an important part in our bilateral relationship with Qatar. Given Qatar ‘s vast gas reserves, its geographical proximity to India and our successful experience in this field, India seek more gas from Qatar and studies in this regard are ongoing and I am hopeful on the outcome of our efforts. We import 5 million tonne of LNG annually and have requested for 2.5 million tonne more.

I would also like to add that our efforts in this aspect are to transform the present buyer-seller relationship into something more substantial and enduring, which will encourage mutual investments in each other’s energy sectors. We are focused on working towards cooperation, partnership and joint ventures with the Gulf countries in the field of oil and gas.

Source: The Financial Express, New Delhi,

7. Envoys of Kuwait and Palestine present credentials to President of India, 24 September 2009

His Excellency Mr. Adli Shaban Hassan Sadeq, the Ambassador of Palestine and His Excellency Mr. Sami Mohammad SM Al-Sulaiman, the Ambassador of Kuwait were among the seven envoys who presented their credentials to the President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan. In her interaction with the envoys, the President welcomed them to India. The President conveyed India’s desire to have good relations and to intensify bilateral relations with their countries. The President said the international community should work unitedly and collectively to combat terrorism. She stated that terrorism hampers peace and harmony in societies and adversely affects the process of creating prosperity. Referring to the global financial crises, the President emphasized the need for reform in international financial institutions. The credential presentation ceremony was attended by the senior members of the missions, senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Source: President’s Secretariat, New Delhi

8. External Affairs Minister’s opening remarks at Press Meeting in New York on 27 September 2009

…I also participated in the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting, the annual meeting of the G-77 Foreign Ministers and the India – Gulf Cooperation Council Ministerial meeting…My bilateral meetings included the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Singapore, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Secretary
General of the Arab League…

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi

Specific Issues

Saudi Arabia/Hajj
9. Advisory for Hajj pilgrims on pandemic Influenza a (H1N1), 26 September 2009

1. Health Advisory from Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
   · Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recommends that elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and children should postpone the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages this year for their own safety.
   · The Saudi government has advised that pilgrims planning to attend the Hajj must be vaccinated against seasonal flu at least two weeks before travelling to the holy places.
   · Passengers are currently screened on arrival at all ports of entry into Saudi Arabia. If a pilgrim is suspected to have influenza A H1N1 (swine flu), he/ she will be temporarily quarantined. If he/ she test positive you will be admitted to hospital for isolation.

2. Health advisory from Ministry of Health, Government of India

2.1 Before leaving India

· Hajj Pilgrims would be medically examined for the signs/ symptoms of influenza A H1N1 (fever, cough, running nose, sore throat, difficulty in breathing) at the point of embarkation that is at the place where booking of pilgrims takes place in their respective states. They will be issued an H1N1 symptom free certificate in prescribed proforma. Contact the local health authority or the State Hajj Committee for further information.
· There would be a provision made by the concerned State Governments at the respective airports to issue such certificates to left out Hajj Pilgrims. Contact the Airport Health Officer for further information.

2.2 During Travel and period of stay in Saudi Arabia

2.2.1. Look for Symptoms of Influenza A H1N1 (swine flu)        

· During Hajj, large number of pilgrims gathers from swine flu affected countries. There is a possibility of Influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak taking place at such large gatherings. Hajj Pilgrims should be familiar with the symptoms of this disease, namely fever, cough, running nose, sore throat and difficulty in breathing.  All Hajj pilgrims need to self monitor their health.

2.2.2. If you think you have symptoms of Influenza A H1N1 (swine flu):

· Consult the medical officer in the Indian contingent. If need be, seek immediate advice from the nearest Saudi medical facility. Anyone who contracts pandemic flu while in Saudi Arabia will be given access free of charge to medication and treatment.

· If the advice of the medical doctor is to stay in the camp, use triple layer surgical mask. Avoid close contact with others for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours whichever is longer.

· Report to nearest identified health facility if symptoms aggravate (high fever, difficulty in breathing, blue colour of the skin or lips, blood in sputum or altered behaviour.

2.2.3. Follow simple public health measures to prevent spread of H1N1 Flu (Do’s and Don’ts)

· Cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or tissue when you cough or sneeze.

· Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand gel.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

· Avoid crowded places except for performing the religious activities of Hajj.

· Stay more than an arm's length from persons afflicted with flu.

· Get plenty of sleep.

· Drink plenty of water and eat nutritious food.

· Shake hands or hug in greeting except as a mandatory religious activity of the Hajj.

· Spit in public.

· Take medicines without consulting a physician.

2.3 After reaching Back
· Continue to monitor your health for 10 days.
· Report to nearest screening centre if you develop symptoms of flu.

For More Information

· Visit

· Contact National Help Line -011-23921401 or

· Contact the help line number of your State Health Department

Source: Press Information Bureau, New Delhi,


10. Statement by External Affairs Minister (EAM) on UAE Air Force Aircraft at Kolkata, 8 September 2009
The UAE Embassy had sought clearance for over flying and landing of their Air Force flight at Kolkata Airport en route to Xianyang, China. The flight arrived from Abu Dhabi at Kolkata Airport on 6th September 2009. The Captain of the flight Major Ibrahim Alshamsei filed a declaration to the Customs stating that the flight was carrying arms/ammunition/explosives. However, since at the time of initial application, no mention of the arms and ammunition was made, the authorities at Kolkata Airport detained the aircraft for further investigation. Accordingly, after the concurrence of the pilot-in-command of the aircraft, the Custom Officials entered the aircraft to inquire about the nature of cargo.

The UAE authorities both here and in Abu Dhabi have since formally regretted the omission in clearly indicating items carried by the aircraft and have described it as a ‘technical error’. They have also provided details about the cargo which consists of Combat Missile.
In the light of the above, the matter will be resolved in the spirit of the close and friendly ties between India and the UAE, and we will facilitate early release of the aircraft.

Source:  Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi

Anjani Kumar Singh is a Research Intern at Middle East Institute @ New Delhi

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI India Speaks:  P R Kumaraswamy