NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Salman received a warm welcome in India Wednesday, with Riyadh eager to demonstrate it is not an international pariah after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
The killing of Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the prince, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul tarnished the image of the kingdom and the prince, who is staging a high-profile Asian tour to demonstrate he still has allies.
Prince Mohammed predicted “good things” will come out of talks with Indian leaders as he started a landmark visit to the world’s largest democracy Wednesday.
“Today we want to be sure this relationship is maintained and improved for the sake of both countries,” the crown prince said in comments to reporters after full ceremonial welcome in Delhi.
“I am sure we can create good things for Saudi Arabia and India,” he added after inspecting a guard of honour at the presidential palace.
The crown prince said the two countries were in each other’s “DNA”, highlighting the importance of Indian labour and experts in Saudi Arabia over the past 70 years as well as a longstanding Saudi presence in India.
Prince Mohammed arrived late Tuesday for a 36-hour visit that was to be dominated by economic ties.
But it has risked being overshadowed by rising tensions between India and Pakistan – where the Saudi royal was on the first leg of his Asian tour – over a suicide attack in Kashmir.
The attack last week left at least 40 Indian paramilitaries dead and India has blamed Pakistan, which has denied any involvement.
Saudi officials have offered to help “de-escalate tensions” between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir said in Islamabad on Monday that the delegation would “see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully”.
Saudi Arabia currently supplies about 20% of India’s crude oil and wants to definitively push aside arch-rival Iran as a source.
Iran at one stage last year overtook Saudi Arabia among India’s suppliers but US sanctions since have severely hit the Islamic republic’s oil business.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also wooed Saudi investment in recent years for flagship infrastructure programmes.
The two leaders are to hold talks later Wednesday.