Saudi Arabia to double exports of crude oil to India - The National Saudi Arabia has agreed to double its crude oil exports to India in a move that would reduce the Asian country's dependence on Iranian crude. Annual Indian crude imports from the kingdom could rise to more than 800,000 barrels per day, an Indian official said yesterday in Riyadh on the sidelines of a Saudi energy conference. "India appreciates the role of the kingdom as an important and reliable energy partner," said the official, who is on the staff of the Indian embassy in Riyadh. "Both countries are also working to diversify their seller-buyer relationship into a strategic energy partnership." An Indian-Saudi energy alliance has been in the works for at least 18 months. In February last year, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah paid a historic visit to New Delhi, becoming the first Saudi head of state to visit India, which has hostile relations with the kingdom's long-held Muslim ally Pakistan. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh reciprocated by visiting Riyadh the following month. Analysts said Riyadh wanted India's help in containing al Qa'eda activity in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also suggested the kingdom was seeking to weaken its regional rival Iran by supplying crude that India would otherwise need to import from Tehran. "Through oil diplomacy, Saudi Arabia hopes to sap Iran of important regional partners, a diplomatic coup the US and other western nations have so far failed to achieve," Aaron Mattis wrote in the Harvard International Review. On the other hand, economic imperatives have proved more than sufficient for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil exporters to strengthen trade ties with other rapidly developing Asian nations such as China and South Korea. Oil consumption in those countries, along with India, has risen sharply since 2008, even as it has fallen in the developed world. By last August, the Saudi-Indian energy initiative was gathering momentum. "Opportunities exist to strengthen ties in investment between India and Saudi Arabia," Ali al Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, said on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian oil buyers. The kingdom was keen on entering into a 30-year oil supply contract with India, as it had done with several other countries, he added. Last February, the Saudi Al Qahtani Sons group formed a joint venture with India's SledgeHammer Oil Tools to build a large manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia for oilfield and drilling equipment. "Many companies are looking for joint ventures. "Such deals are important for expanding business in India and in Saudi Arabia," said Abdulrahman al Rabiah, the chairman of the Saudi-India Joint Business Council.