India is our most trusted friend: Maldives

New Delhi: Foreign Minister of Maldives Abdulla Shahid on Tuesday said that India is the “closest and most trusted friend and neighbour” of his country. “We are committed to re-igniting India-Maldives friendship and relationship, reaching new horizons, exploring new avenues while strengthening existing links,” Shahid asserted during a press conference here.

He also stated that the first official visit of the Maldivian officials and Ministers was to India as the two countries have a close partnership. Talking about the newly sworn-in President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government, Shahid said, “Our government will not try to play one country against the other. We have a strong India-first policy, but we will also get engaged with all countries and we will be ready to do business with them,”
He also said that to deal with the monetary constraints which were passed on to them by the previous government of former President Yameen, the south-Asian island nation sought India’s help and also received a positive feedback.

“We have received a very positive feedback from India. India has given us an assurance they will help us sustain and stabilise the budget. The modalities of the same are being worked out,” he asserted.
When quizzed about the amount of debt over the Maldives, Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer said that the newly-appointed Cabinet is not yet ready to disclose the debt as the country has incurred a great loss under the previous government.

Talking about his visit, Shahid stated that the visit was very fruitful and said that the Maldives is looking forward to India to take lead in engaging with the Maldives on projects related to diversification of the economy.

“We want to vigorously engage with Indian business community on the development of Indian economy,” he reiterated. Assuring to move the stalled projects with India, the Maldives also recommitted itself to the 1979 visa agreement, with a plan to reviewing it in due course.
Shahid also condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that the Maldives stands with India in combating terrorism.

“We also reaffirm our commitment to the peace and security of the Indian Ocean and our neighbourhood. We are committed to keeping the Indian Ocean safe and secure, and to working with India to combat terrorism in all its forms,” Shahid said.

While talking about deals with China, Shahid revealed that several of those deals were either made in secrecy or were rushed through the Parliament. He further stated that the deals made in secrecy were being reviewed by the South Asian island nation.

Talking about the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the Maldives and China, Shahid asserted that the deal was rushed through the Parliament. “Free Trade Agreement was rushed through parliament… As Foreign Minister, I have asked my officials to review the document. We will publicly comment on it after the review is complete,” the Foreign Minister said.

Shahid, along with Maldives Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer and Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail, was on a two-day visit to India to discuss a range of issues including economic, social and defence cooperation.

Earlier in the day, Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid also called on Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. Shahid’s four-day trip to India is his first official foreign trip after assuming office on November 17.

On Monday, Shahid met External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj followed by a meeting with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Shahid is scheduled to emplane for the Maldives late on Tuesday night.