ISLAMABAD - Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday said that Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are entering a new era, a defining feature of which is going to be a closer than ever economic partnership.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce Razzaq Dawood and Board of Investment Chairman Haroon Sharif, the foreign minister regretted the negative talk from some quarters about the Pak-Saudi relationship.

He said that Saudi Arabia ‘is our close and trustworthy friend and the relations with the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will be improved further’.

Qureshi said that back-to-back visits of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia had improved relations which nosedived in the tenure of previous government.

During prime minister's visit to Riyadh, Saudi leadership desired to turn the friendly relations into a strong economic partnership, he added.

The foreign minister said that during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince at least eight MoUs were expected to be signed and a Coordination Council, headed by Premier Khan and Crown Prince Mohammed, will be set up to monitor the progress on signed agreements worth billions of dollars.

He said that whenever something good happens in Pakistan, people start guessing negatively. He said that Islamabad also values its relations with Tehran and rejected the impression that the cash-starved country was being pushed into the Yemen conflict.

Pakistan has close ties to neighbouring Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, and maintains a balance in relations with the two.

“We are not being tossed into the Yemen conflict. The extraordinary investments (by Saudi Arabia) are totally bilateral. They are also not linked to the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor),” the foreign minister declared.

Asked if there was pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan as he postponed his visit to Iran ahead of Saudi Crown Prince’s visit, Qureshi said: “We have regular interaction with Iran and in the recent past, we had three major meetings.”

He said that even Iran had shown no reservations against Pak-Saudi Arabia ties. “They (Iran) have given a statement which approves our bilateral ties (with Saudi Arabia),” he pointed out.

The minister said Pakistan could not ask Iran to join the Saudi-led military alliance. “Iran is a sovereign country. They have a senior (person as the) foreign minister. They take their own decisions,” he added.

He said that former army chief Raheel Sharif, who heads the 41-member Saudi-led military alliance, had made it clear before Prince Mohammad’s visit that the coalition was not formed against any particular sect, region or country.

Pakistan has in the past declined to join the Saudi-led coalition waging war on Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen.

Qureshi said that when they took over the reins of the country, Pak-Saudi relations were strained.

“A vacuum was created in Pak-Saudi ties due to some reasons,” he said, adding that the harmony in ties between the two countries would be witnessed during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Pakistan.

The Saudi Crown Prince will arrive in Pakistan on February 16 for a two-day visit and is expected to stay at the Prime Minister’s House. Qureshi said that a huge Saudi delegation will be accompanying the Crown Prince. He said that the delegates would include Saudi ministers, heads of Saudi companies and high-ranking officials.

During his stay, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be signing a number of agreements and MoUs related to diverse sectors, including investment, finance, power, renewable energy, internal security, media, culture and sports.

The two countries will also discuss ways and means to develop a robust follow-up mechanism to ensure effective implementation and quick progress on tangible areas of cooperation. He said that Saudi Arabia was interested in setting up an oil refinery in Pakistan, whereas it would also invest in minerals resources.

Asked about the volume of the investments by Saudi Arabia, Qureshi said: “We are only two days away. You will know the exact amount.” He disowned a BoI statement that the potential was around $20 billion in a few years. “We will know about the amount soon. Wait a bit,” he remarked.

He added that the investment was extraordinary as the previous governments could not even manage the same amount from the world what ‘we have attained from a couple of countries’.

He said that Pakistan would raise the matter of Pakistani nationals jailed in Saudi Arabia, however, this would not include people involved in heinous crimes.

The foreign minister said that he was leaving for Germany today (February 14) to attend Munich conference on Afghan issue. Qureshi said he will hold meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other world leaders to bring peace in Afghanistan.

“Whatever statements the Afghan President has issued recently, we will discuss all that. We want to ensure peace in Afghanistan and the region,” he said.

Asked about Prince Salman’s visit to India after Pakistan, the minister said that it was a bilateral mater between two sovereign countries. “Saudi Arabia is our trusted friend,” he maintained.

Speaking on the occasion, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that Pakistan was playing a significant role in Middle East. He said that a warm welcome will be accorded to the Saudi Crown Prince on his arrival in Islamabad. He said that it was the first time after former premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that Pakistan was playing a key role in the region.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on commerce, Abdul Razzak Dawood said that he expected a US$7 billion Saudi investment in the country in the next 2 years and that agreements will be signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia when the Saudi Crown Prince visits Pakistan. Saudi investors, he said, were interested more in food and agriculture sectors.