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Gulf has immense importance for India: Antony

Riyadh, Feb 14 (IANS) The Gulf has immense importance in Indian foreign policy, with over six million Indians working in the region, visiting Indian Defence Minister said here.

Addressing the Indian community, Antony, who arrived Monday on a two-day visit, described Saudi Arabia as an important strategic partner.

Referring to the importance of the Gulf region for India's foreign policy, he said: 'It provides more than half of our total crude oil imports.'

The region is the largest trading partner of India with the total two-way trade of over $130 billion in 2010-11.

Antony said over six million Indians live and work in the region. New Delhi appreciated the assistance the host government gave towards their safety and well-being.

Talking about India's economic successes, he said this had been achieved within the framework of the democratic and secular order.

'In this order, every Indian enjoys freedom to pursue his beliefs and aspirations and has rights to ensure he can realize his dreams with the assurance that the state will protect his identity and individuality.

'Though major challenges still remain, it is a matter of satisfaction for all of us that our constitution remains the guardian of our nationhood and our national values,' he said.

The minister said: 'India is working closely with all countries in the Gulf in a coordinated manner to combat terrorism and for anti-piracy.'

He expressed confidence that his visit would give 'new substance and direction' to Indo-Saudi defence ties, which he said formed an important component of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

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