The regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has taken a new turn, as the Gulf kingdom plans to strengthen its ties with India. With Tehran coming closer to New Delhi, Saudi, too, has decided to transform its relation with the South Asian country from a healthy partnership to a “strategic” one during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh in April.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir recently said that the top political leadership in Riyadh was waiting for Prime Minister Modi’s visit that could be a milestone in the bilateral relations. Jubeir issued the statement after holding talks with Modi and his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Prime Minister Modi will arrive in the Saudi capital on April 2 for a two-day visit on his way back from the US. The current regional political scenario and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran make the PM’s visit significant. Despite the Saudi-Iran rivalry, New Delhi has welcomed Jubeir’s announcement, saying that Saudi Arabia is not only India’s largest crude oil supplier, but also its fourth largest trading partner. The volume of bilateral trade has reached USD 40 billion. The Indo-Saudi ties got a huge boost during then King Abdullah’s visit to New Delhi in 2006.

Jubeir, who arrived in the Indian capital on Monday on a day’s trip, stressed that he was in the South Asian country as part of the preparations for Modi’s visit. He said that the Indian premier, too, is ready to bolster ties with Saudi Arabia. “Our relations have a strong foundation. India is a very important partner for us. We expressed our commitment to further deepen our relations in all areas, including energy co-operation,” the visiting Saudi minister told the Indian media.

Jubeir held a separate meeting with his Indian counterpart Swaraj to discuss a wide range of issues, including the fight against terror and the political dialogue between New Delhi and Riyadh. During the meeting, Swaraj urged her guest to support India’s draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT), saying that India wanted a strong security and counter terrorism partnership with Saudi. The two ministers further discussed the current regional security situation and the threat from the Islamic State (IS) terror outfit.

Meanwhile, political experts have opined that it will be a difficult job for India to balance its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Relations between the two West Asian nations have been strained over different geo-political issues, like the interpretations of Islam, aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world, oil export policy and relations with the US and the West. Iran and Saudi Arabia are also involved (on opposite sides) in the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen. While Iran has a large population and a long history of nationhood, Saudi Arabia holds significant oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is also the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. As India maintains close ties with Israel, foreign policymakers in New Delhi have a tough job in hand. A slight miscalculation could jeopardise prospects for India’s strategic partnerships with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. They will have to ensure that Saudi-Iran spat will have no significant impact on India.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]