Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques briefs cabinet on talks with Turkish PM

Petroleum & minerals council stresses kingdom’s keenness on producers and consumers’ interests

Prince Salman patronizes ceremony to hand out Arabian Peninsula History awards, grants

Saudi Arabia donates $50 million in aid relief to Haiti

Indian PM Singh to visit Saudi Arabia soon to sign cooperation agreements

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chaired the Cabinet session held at Al-Yamamah Palace.

At the outset of the session, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques briefed the Cabinet on the talks he held with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The King praised the depth of relations between the two countries as well as their keenness to develop them in all fields to achieve security and stability in the region.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques also briefed the Cabinet on the contacts and consultations that took place during the past week with a number of world leaders on international developments, including the message he received from Finland's President Tarja Halonen which was delivered by Finland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb. The King also briefed the Cabinet on the meeting he held with Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet.

In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) following the session, the Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdulaziz bin Mohieddin Khoja said that the Cabinet listened to reports on the developments at Arab, regional and international arenas.

Dr. Khoja said that the Cabinet reviewed a number of issues at the domestic level, including the outcomes of the meeting of the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals which was held under the chairmanship of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The Council discussed the oil market situation, confirming the Kingdom's keenness on the interest of producing and consuming countries. The Council expressed satisfaction over the Kingdom's investments in the field of expanding the capacity of producing and refining crude oil in order to meet global demand. The Cabinet also highlighted the Kingdom's effort in the field of environmental protection.

The Cabinet hailed the King's approval to extend the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Program for five years as of the fiscal year 1431/1432. The Cabinet also praised the Second Arab Report for Cultural Development issued by the Arab Thought Foundation. The report ranked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia first in Arab countries and seventh in the world in the field of creativity and innovation. It also ranked the Kingdom first in Arab countries and eighth in the world in the field of spending on education.

The Cabinet addressed the 4th Global Competitiveness Forum organized by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority in Riyadh under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

Dr. Khoja said that the Cabinet reviewed a number of issues on its agenda and issued the following decisions:

The Cabinet authorized the Minister of Commerce and Industry (or his deputy) to discuss with the Qatari side a draft memorandum of understanding on industrial cooperation between the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Government of the State of Qatar; and sign it within the framework of the Saudi-Qatari Coordinating Council.

The Cabinet authorized the Foreign Minister (or his deputy) to discuss with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth a draft headquarters agreement between the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth as well as the draft protocol; and sign them.

The Cabinet approved a number of measures pertaining to the development of an appropriate mechanism for delivering services to granted lands.

The Cabinet authorized the Minister of Finance (or his deputy) to sign a draft agreement and the draft protocol between the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Government of the Republic of Singapore on the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of tax evasion on income taxes.

The Cabinet amended paragraph 6 of Article 3 of the Portability of Benefit Rights between The Civil and Military Retirement Schemes and Social Insurance Scheme. The paragraph shall read as follows:

'6- The aggregated contribution periods shall not be complementary periods for the entitlement for retirement pension before attaining the age of sixty in the last Scheme.

The contributor shall complete the period required by this Scheme, unless the reasons for aggregation are a result of privatization or the service termination is a result of death or disability. In case of aggregation resulting from privatization, the contributor may not combine the retirement pension and salary of employment covered by the Civil or Military Retirement Scheme or Social Insurance Scheme'.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah, the Premier and President of the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals Affairs, presided over the Council's meeting.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General and Vice President of the Supreme Council of Petroleum and Minerals Affairs, and other members of the Supreme Council.

At the end of the meeting, Minister of State and Member of Cabinet and also member and Secretary General of the Supreme Council, Dr. Mutlab bin Abdullah Al-Nafisah said that the Council reviewed the situation in the oil market, and the Kingdom's keenness on the interests of producing and consuming countries.

The Council expressed satisfaction over the process of the Kingdom's investment to raise and expand its capacity to produce crude oil and refining it to contribute to meeting the world demand, which is running in accordance to the set timetable and in tandem with the Kingdom endeavors to maintain ecological protection, he added.

Later, the Council discussed its agenda and decided to approve the working plans of Saudi Aramco, gave approval to its two annual reports, sanctioned its balance sheet and profits and losses accounts. It also approved appointment of an external account Controller for Saudi Aramco and its affiliates, he further added.

The Council reviewed too the technical, financial and statistical report on Saudi Aramco's companies licensed for mining and discussed a number of petroleum and mining related issues, he concluded.

Meantime, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Governor of Riyadh region, patronized the ceremony for Studies of the History of the Arabian Peninsula Award, named after him.

At the ceremony organized by King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives, Prince Salman awarded merit prizes to Sheikh Mohammed bin Nasser al-Aboudi, Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Humeid, Dr. Ahmad bin Omar al-Zaila'ei and Abdurrahman bin Zeid al-Suweida for their significant role in writing the history of the Arabian Peninsula.

Prince Salman also awarded prizes to Dr. Mohammed bin Abdurrahman al-Thenian from King Saud University; Dr. Nadia bint Abdulaziz al-Yahya from the University of Princess Noora bint Abdurrahman; Dr. Dalal bint Makhlad al-Harbi; Dr. Abdurrahman bin Ali al-Sineidi; Dr. Saeed bin Dibeis al-Oteibi as well as Dr. Huda bint Abdullah al-Abdel-al-a'li from University of Princess Noora bint Abdurrahman, and Khalid bin Abdullah Kireiri from Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University.

The ceremony was attended by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, as well as other princes and senior officials.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has donated $50 million in relief to Haiti to cope with the devastating earthquake that hit the country nearly two weeks ago, making it the largest donation from the Middle East to date, a Saudi foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.

More than 150,000 people have been buried by the government since the Jan. 12 quake struck, but that doesn't count the bodies still in wrecked buildings, buried or burned by relatives or dead in outlying quake areas, according to government officials. The quake left some 700,000 people homeless in Port-au-Prince, mostly huddled under sheets, boards and plastic in open areas.

Israel sent a medical and rescue team in Haiti which the army said will finish its operations in the next few days and return to Israel by Thursday.

The official news agency of the United Arab Emirates, a Middle Eastern nation on the Persian Gulf, said a plane carrying 77 tons of basic relief supplies has been sent by the government to Haiti.

Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, also flew to Port-Au-Prince last week on a "mercy mission" to deliver aid and rescue Arab families in the Haitian capital.

Dubai is one of seven sheikdoms making up the United Arab Emirates.

"Dubai may be far away, but we join in reaching out to Haitian families who have lost so much and are struggling just now to survive," the princess, a U.N. "Messenger of Peace," told the Emirates' news agency.

Jordan sent six tons of relief supplies to Haiti shortly after the quake hit. A field hospital was also dispatched there to help treat survivors, including members of Jordan's 700-strong, peacekeeping contingent in Haiti. Three Jordanian peacekeepers were killed and 23 wounded in the quake.

On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is planning to go to Saudi Arabia around the end of February, his first overseas visit of 2010 that will have an extradition treaty and pledges of big-ticket Saudi investments into India as its highlights.

'The visit is under consideration. He could go around February end or the first week of March. It is being finalized,' knowledgeable sources told IANS.

It will be the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Riyadh, the world's top oil producer that supplies nearly 30 percent of India's crude oil needs, since Indira Gandhi went there in 1982.

Building upon their counter-terror cooperation since the landmark visit of the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2006, the two sides are planning to sign an extradition treaty, which they have been discussing for years, during the visit.

The treaty will underline a new trust and synergy between India and the Gulf's most influential country, home to 1.6 million-strong Indian diaspora.

'The draft has been finalized. Only some formalities remain to be completed between the two sides,' the sources added.

The cabinet is expected to approve the treaty soon. It will enable India to get access to some of fugitives like underworld don Dawood Ibrahim who are often spotted in Saudi Arabia.

Ibrahim is wanted in India for the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai.

Riyadh is keen to seek greater counter-terror cooperation with New Delhi and has consistently expressed solidarity with India in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Another area that is going to see a tangible breakthrough during Manmohan Singh's visit - deferred many a time in the last three years due to scheduling issues - is the expected announcement of some showpiece investments by Saudi companies in the infrastructure sector.

Saudi investors are looking at India, the world's second fastest growing economy, afresh specially after the global financial crisis when they lost heavily in the crunch.

The investment proposals will also be discussed when a Saudi delegation headed by their deputy minister for trade comes to India for the two-day Indo-Arab conclave next month.

India is planning to offer $9 billion in investments to Gulf countries during the conclave, the sources said. Indian companies have already invested around $2 billion in the Gulf's largest economy.

With Saudi Arabia looking at India anew as a knowledge power, expanded cooperation in areas like IT and science and technology will be among important outcomes of the visit.

The spadework for the visit was done by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who attended the eight session of the Joint Commission in Riyadh in October.

India feted King Abdullah as chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 2006 - the first visit by a Saudi monarch to the country in over half a century.