PM Modi, who is on a two-day visit to the Gulf Kingdom, called on King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the two leaders exchanged views on working together closely to strengthen bilateral ties

Riyadh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held extensive talks with the Saudi Arabia's top leadership during which a Strategic Partnership Council was established to coordinate on important issues.

India and Saudi Arabia inked more than a dozen agreements in several key sectors, including oil and gas, defence and civil aviation to bolster their ties as Modi reached the Gulf Kingdom on a two-day visit to attend the Future Investment Initiative here.

He called on Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the two leaders exchanged views on working together closely to strengthen the bilateral ties. The two leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and agreed to step up bilateral security cooperation.

Saudi Arabia, known to be a key ally of Pakistan, has been siding with India in its campaign to rid the region of terrorism and pledged to extend all cooperation to effectively deal with the challenge. Later in the evening, Prime Minister Modi held wide-ranging talks with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

After the delegation-level talks, the two sides signed an agreement to establish the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council to coordinate decisions regarding strategically important issues.

The council will be headed by Modi and the crown prince and it will meet at an interval of two years.

Briefing the media following the meeting and luncheon hosted by King Salman for Modi, Economic Relations Secretary TS Tirumurti said the two leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and agreed to step up bilateral security cooperation.

They also discussed cooperation in agriculture, oil and gas, maritime security, innovative technology, renewable energy, trade and investment between the two countries during their talks.

An agreement was signed on bringing coordination between e-migration systems of the two countries. An MoU was also signed to roll out RuPay card in the Kingdom — making Saudi Arabia the third country in the Persian Gulf after the UAE and Bahrain to introduce India's digital payment system.

There are over 2.6 million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, the largest expatriate community in the country. Nearly two lakh Haj pilgrims and over three hundred thousand Umrah pilgrims from India visit Saudi Arabia every year and acceptance of Rupay card will allow them to transact at a cheaper rate.

The two sides also vowed to further enhance defence industries collaboration and security cooperation. The first naval exercise between the two nations will take place by end of this year or early next year.

The two countries also decided to move ahead on the ambitious west coast refinery project in Raigarh in Maharastra which will involve investments from Saudi oil giant Aramco, UAE's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Indian public sector oil firms.

An MoU for a joint venture between Indian Oil Middle East and with Saudi company Al Jeri for downstream cooperation and setting up of fuel retail business in the Gulf country was also signed, expanding energy ties between the two countries.

India, the world's third-largest oil consumer, imports 83 per cent of its oil needs. Saudi Arabia is its second-biggest supplier after Iraq. It sold 40.33 million tonnes of crude oil to India in 2018-19 fiscal, when the country had imported 207.3 million tonnes of oil. India buys some 200,000 tonnes of LPG every month from Saudi Arabia.

A series of drone and missile attacks on oil facilities of Saudi Aramco, the country's national petroleum company, in Abqaiq and Khurais on September 14 drove oil prices to their highest level in nearly four months.

The attack had knocked out over half of Saudi Arabia's production as it cut 5.7 million barrels per day or over 5 per cent of the world's supply. India condemned the attacks and reiterated its resolve to oppose terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Notwithstanding the attack on its oil facilities, Saudi Arabia assured India that it was committed to meet the country's energy security needs. Modi thanked King Salman for the continued supply of the petroleum products to India despite the damaging attack, Tirumurti said.

King Salman also congratulated Modi on his party's election victory in May, he said. Tirumurti said there has been a considerable progress in bilateral cooperation since the state visit of the crown prince to India in February.

The two sides also inked an MoU for cooperation in the area of renewable energy. They also signed agreements to increase number of flights between the two countries to facilitate people-to-people contacts, medicine products regulation and prevention of trafficking of narcotics among others.

India's relations with Saudi Arabia have been on an upswing over the last few years based on burgeoning energy ties. India's bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was at USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner.

This is Modi's second visit to the country. During his first visit, King Salman conferred Saudi's highest civilian award on him. The crown prince visited India in February 2019, giving a further fillip to the bilateral ties.

Saudi Arabia last month said that it was looking at investing USD 100 billion in India in areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining.