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Saudi prince shows interest in meeting with PM

Saudi outreach is important for the new government since Saudi King Abdullah had visited India in 2006 and Crown Prince Salman had come in February this year.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
October 7, 2014 2:52:26 am

In what is being seen as the first moves by the Saudi royal family in reaching out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Saudi prince and business tycoon Al-Waleed Bin Talal — who is named by Forbes magazine as one of the smartest and most creative investors in the world — is learnt to have expressed an interest to schedule a meeting with the Prime Minister.

If the meeting comes through, it will be the first reach out through Saudi Royal family channels to the new BJP-led NDA government after Modi came to power. This assumes significance since Saudi Arabia had reservations about Modi in the past.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed, 59, is the nephew of Saudi King Abdullah and a grandson of Riad Al Solh, Lebanon’s first Prime Minister.

Prince Al-Waleed is the founder, chief executive officer and 95 per cent-owner of the Kingdom Holding Company, which has investments in companies within various sectors such as banking and financial services, hotels and hotel management companies, mass media, entertainment, retail, agriculture, petrochemicals, aviation, technology, and real estate.

He is also Citigroup’s largest individual shareholder, the second-largest voting shareholder in News Corporation, he owns Paris’s Four Seasons Hotel George V and part of Plaza Hotel. Due to his prominence as a businessman, he was acknowledged by Time Magazine, who labeled the Prince as the “Arabian Warren Buffett.”

It is learnt that Prince AlWaleed — who was educated in the US — watched Modi’s TV interview on CNN and sent a message to Fareed Zakaria that he found Modi “impressive”. “When a leader of a nation of 1.25 billion people has such a strong personality, charisma & vision then the people of that nation, India, should have plenty of optimism about their future,” he is learnt to have told Zakaria.

This set the ball rolling, as Prince Al-Waleed — who was named by Forbes as the 26th-richest man in the world in 2013 — expressed his interest to meet Modi. Following this, the Saudi embassy in New Delhi and the Indian embassy in Riyadh have exchanged notes on the issue with their host governments.

Saudi Arabia is a key partner in West Asia, especially since Indo-Saudi economic relations have shown remarkable growth with bilateral trade registering three-fold increase in the last five years. Saudi Arabia is the 4th largest trade partner of India and the bilateral trade was $48.75 billion in 2013-14.

The import of crude oil by India forms a major component of bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia being India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of its needs.

The 2.5 million plus strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom and is the ‘most preferred community’ due to their expertise, sense of discipline, law abiding and peace loving nature.

The Saudi outreach is important for the new government since Saudi King Abdullah had visited India in 2006 and Crown Prince Salman had come in February this year.

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