Male, (PTI) Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday said he was looking forward to working closely with new Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as both the leaders expressed confidence in the renewal of the close ties and friendship between the two countries, which was briefly interrupted by political turmoil in the Indian Ocean island nation.
Prime Minister Modi, the highest-ranking leader to attend the 54-year-old veteran politician’s inauguration as the seventh president, met Solih soon after the ceremony at the national football stadium here and pledged all assistance to the strategically-located country’s endeavor to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country.
Seated between former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed, Prime Minister Modi embraced both leaders and was seen chatting with them. Former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga was also present.
Solih as the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s candidate had surprisingly defeated strongman Abdulla Yameen in the election held on September 23.
During the meeting, Modi and Solih agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region, the joint statement said.
The two leaders, while noting the resilience of the relations between India and the Maldives, expressed confidence in the renewal of the close bonds of cooperation and friendship with the election of Solih as the President of the Maldives.
The two leaders expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere.
President Solih also briefed Prime Minister Modi on the dire economic situation facing the country as he takes office.
The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives.
President Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands, the statement said.
Modi said that he is looking forward to working with Solih to strengthen bilateral relations between the two nations.
He assured Solih of India’s firm commitment to assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development.
He also conveyed India’s readiness to extend help in every possible way and suggested that both sides should meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the Maldives.
Prime Minister Modi also welcomed the expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries.
Recognizing that nationals of both countries travel extensively between the two countries, the leaders also agreed on the need for facilitating easier visa procedures.
Modi also interacted with leaders from the Maldives and other parts of the world during the oath-taking ceremony.
On arrival in the Maldivian capital, Prime Minister Modi was given a red carpet welcome and was received by Maldives Parliament’s new Speaker Qasim Ibrahim.
This was Modi’s first visit to the Maldives as prime minister. The last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Indian Ocean island nation was by Manmohan Singh in 2011.
The visit emphasized India’s role as a reliable neighbor, supporting the Maldives in its progress and security, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
The Maldives is the only South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC country that Modi had not visited. His visit to the Maldives, a strategically vital island and a popular tourist destination, was canceled in March 2015 due to the volatile political situation then.
India-Maldives ties came under strain under Yameen who was perceived to be close to China. Some decisions by Yameen including imposition of restrictions on work visas for Indians and signing of a new Free Trade Agreement with Beijing also did not go down well with New Delhi.
Relations between India and the Maldives deteriorated further after Yameen imposed emergency on February 5 this year. India had criticised his decision and asked his government to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners. The emergency lasted for 45 days