President Abdulla Yameen met with top officials of the Saudi Arabian government Tuesday to discuss development assistance and boosting ties in trade and education.
During official talks with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Yameen “stated that Maldives is keen and enthusiastic in supporting Saudi Arabia, to stand against the threat of global terrorism,” the president’s office said.
King Salman, who “expressed his keen interest to further reinforce the brotherly ties,” accepted an invitation to visit the Maldives at a mutually convenient date.
Yameen also expressed gratitude for increasing the Hajj quota to Maldivian pilgrims and said Maldives and Saudi Arabia are “currently at the peak of diplomatic relations”.
The president arrived in Riyadh Monday night for his second official visit since assuming office in November 2013. Following his first visit in March last year, he called the kingdom the Maldives’ “primary partner.”
In May, the Maldives severed ties with Iran after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The Maldives is also among 34 countries that joined a Saudi-led Islamic military alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations.
After the official talks, Yameen met with the Saudi foreign minister, education minister, Islamic affairs minister, and the chairman of the Saudi Fund for Development, which recently loaned US$100 million to finance a new passenger terminal to be built by the Saudi Binladin group.
Dr Yousef Al-Bassam, who is also the managing director of the fund, paid a courtesy call on the president at the King Saud Guest Palace on Tuesday morning.
The pair discussed development assistance, opportunities for further engagement, and “possibilities for supporting SMEs and the Maldivian fisheries sector.” The government recently merged the loss-making state fisheries company with the state-owned wholesaler.
The Saudi Fund has also loaned US$80 million to finance infrastructure development projects in a new population hub under development in the artificial island of Hulhumalé.
Other development assistance from the kingdom includes US$50 million pledged for a military housing project, a US$20 million grant for budget support in May 2015, and US$1 million as grant aid to finance the feasibility study for a transhipment port in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll.
Yameen also held discussions yesterday with Education Minister Ahmed Al-Issa about higher education opportunities in the kingdom for Maldivian students.
The minister “emphasised on expediting the process” of increasing annual scholarships from 150 to 300, according to the president’s office.
He also spoke about “establishing cooperation between the Islamic University of Maldives and the Saudi academia.”
In August last year, the Saudi cabinet authorised the Medina-based Islamic University to draft an agreement with the Islamic University of the Maldives.
Calling on the president yesterday, Sheikh Salih bin Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad Al-Shaykh, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Islamic affairs, endowments, dawah, and guidance, expressed interest in assessing and identifying resources required by the IUM and “pledged support in resource development”.
During Sheikh Salih’s visit to the Maldives in November last year, Saudi Arabia and Maldives penned an agreement hailed as a “religious bridge” to maintain religious unity. Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the time that the Saudis will help maintain the Maldives’ 100 percent Muslim status.
The Speaker of the Shura Council had also donated US$100,000 to the IUM during a visit in early 2015.
Saudi Arabia is meanwhile funding a project to build a grand mosque in Malé that can accommodate 6,000 worshippers. Described as a gift from the Saudi King, it will be the largest mosque in the country.
In Yameen’s meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, both sides reaffirmed “solidarity in the fight against the threat of terrorism.” The minister also assured “mutual support in tackling issues of global climate change.”
Details of the president’s itinerary have not been shared with media. It is also unclear when he is expected to return.
Yameen was accompanied on the visit by Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee.
In addition to the two official visits, the president has made three private visits to the kingdom since assuming office. King Salman had also visited the Maldives months before he was crowned king.
In July, the Saudi ambassador to the Maldives came to First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim’s defence after dates gifted by Saudi were distributed under the name of her charity organisation. The Saudi embassy issued a statement calling the first lady an “exemplary philanthropist”.