Aiyar lays the groundwork for Saudi royal visit

Vol 8, PW 15 (20 Oct 04) People & Policy

My ministry needs to keep the Saudis in good humour with oil nudging towards $55 a barrel, writes Aiyar in a letter to foreign minister K Natwar Singh on 10th October.

Last month during the OPEC meeting in Vienna Saudi oil minister Ali Al Naimi hosted a dinner for Aiyar and the Indian delegation in the elegant surroundings of Schwarzenberg Palace. After the dinner, the (Saudi) oil minister took me aside to say the Crown Prince was very keen to visit India.

Aiyar was also told that while the Crown Prince had travelled all over the South Asian region, he had never been to India. He (the Saudi oil minister) inquired whether it would be possible for us to extend an invitation at the appropriate level for such a Royal visit.

Promptly on his return from Vienna, Aiyar narrated this conversation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who recalled his own visit to Saudi Arabia as finance minister and said he saw no difficulty in inviting the Crown Prince. Aiyar believes there is more to the Saudi request for the Crown Prince than meets the eye.

It is evident that Saudi Arabia is placing special importance on India, partly because of our emergence as a significant buyer of Saudi oil but, I suspect, even more because they see a role for us in the development of natural gas in the Kingdom. He hopes these gestures will also make Saudi Arabia diversify its hitherto Western-concentrated oil policy.

On his part, Aiyar has already extended an invite to the Saudi oil minister to visit India to attend a meeting of principal Asian oil suppliers and buyers, which is planned to coincide with the Petrotech exposition in mid-January. I have also agreed to visit the Kingdom in the second fortnight of March, Aiyar tells Singh asking him to process the request for Saudi Crown Princes visit to India as quickly as possible.