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By Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Wednesday he expected investment opportunities worth more than $100 billion in India over the next two years as he began his first official visit amid tensions between arch foes India and Pakistan.
India rolled out the red carpet for the crown prince as it seeks diplomatic support against Pakistan following a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The crown prince, whose country is facing frosty ties with Western countries after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was also given a lavish welcome this week in Pakistan where the two sides signed memoranda of understanding valued at about $20 billion to help prop up Pakistan’s economy.
In a joint press appearance after talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the crown prince said terrorism was a common concern and Saudi Arabia was ready to share intelligence with India to tackle it.
The two countries will start a security dialogue at the level of national security advisors and set up a working group on counter-terrorism, said T.S. Tirumurti, who handles economic relations at India’s foreign ministry.
“Both leaders called on all countries to renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy,” Tirumurti told a press briefing.
India blames Pakistan for not doing enough to counter militant groups that operate from its soil including the one that claimed responsibility for the Kashmir car bombing last Thursday.
Pakistan denies any involvement in cross-border terrorism and has said it would retaliate against an Indian attack.
“We face similar challenges, chief among them extremism and terrorism … and we reaffirm to India that we are ready to work in the intelligence and political arenas to coordinate our efforts…” the crown prince said.
Saudi Arabia’s domestic security structure helped put down an al Qaeda bombing campaign over a decade ago. But the kingdom continues to face occasional attacks by Sunni Islamic State fighters and Shi’ite militants in its Eastern Province.
Riyadh leads a coalition of Arab states fighting in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government against the Iran-aligned Houthi fighters, who regularly fire rockets across the kingdom’s southern border.
On trade relations, the crown prince said “we expect the opportunities we are targeting in India in various fields to exceed $100 billion in the coming two years”.
Sectors of interest included energy, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing, Tirumurti said, adding that Saudi Arabia’s focus was on expanding non-oil trade with India.
Giant petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco said it was in talks with India’s Reliance Industries Ltd for possible investments and was seeking other opportunities.
Both India and Pakistan had expected a scaling up of investments on the crown prince’s first tour of the region since the storm over the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
The killing has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered the prince’s image abroad. He is also visiting China on this trip.
The European Commission has added Saudi Arabia to an EU draft list of countries that pose a threat to the bloc because of lax controls against terrorism financing and money laundering, sources told Reuters last month.
Modi has sought to use India’s fast-growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations since he took office.
The two countries signed agreements on investment in infrastructure, housing sector and tourism. (Additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme, Stephen Kalin, Neha Dasgupta, Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra Editing by Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry)