NEW DELHI: On her first visit to Oman, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday met with her counterpart, Yosuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said and head of the Defence Council General Sultan bin Mohammed Ali Nuamani and reviewed the bilateral security and defence ties.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, Sushma told her hosts that there was a “multiplicity of opportunities” to expand ties in a growing India, informing them of the various schemes being implemented by the government, from “Make in India” to “Digital India”.
As expected, India raised the issue of the undersea pipeline, talks about which have been going on for nearly two years.
Anti-piracy cooperation being a common thread, bilateral defence and security ties were high on the priority list, as both sides took stock of strategic issues related to maritime security.
“Obviously there are a lot of things to catch up on. The focus has been on strategic issues. We hope this visit will set in motion a deeper engagement between Oman and India,” ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
Cyber security, a major focus area for security agencies, has emerged as another avenue for India-Oman cooperation.
The two sides reviewed the events in Yemen and the critical role Oman played in the Iranian nuclear issue. Oman had emerged as the main go-between between Iran and the US before the détente started after the Hassan Rouhani Government took over in Tehran.
Sushma, however, couldn’t meet the Omani ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Germany.
In January, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sultan Qaboos in Germany on transit to the Vibrant Gujarat Summit.
Oman has been India’s closet friend in the gulf, since the time of the present Sultan’s father. In 2013, India invited him to be the Republic Day chief guest, but he rejected the invite, citing ill health.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to visit the gulf state as part of his first foray to the West Asian region. Numbering over seven lakh, Indians are the largest community of foreign nationals in Oman. Their annual remittance to India is a substantial $3 billion. Sushma had earlier met the representatives of the Indian community after arriving in Oman on Tuesday evening.
Oman has been looking to make India a destination for medical tourism, with hospitals dedicated to the treatment of Omani nationals, Akbaruddin said. The country is also keen to get more of its students to study in India, he added.
Other areas that Oman expressed keen interest in investing are food processing and storage capacity enhancement, given that India lacks adequate food storage facilities. There are more than 1,500 bilateral joint ventures, with the major one being the Oman-India fertilizer company at Sur in the gulf country and the Bharat-Oman refineries at Bina in Madhya Pradesh.