India says Maldives leader committed to 'India first' policy, signaling warmer relations

India said on Sunday that the Maldives leader has committed to an "India first" policy in talks with its external affairs minister.

The step would signal improving ties between the two nations that had soured amid Maldives' leaning closer to China.

Maldives President Yameen Abdul Gayoom made the statement in a meeting with India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his visit to the island nation.

Gayoom's comment came after Swaraj stressed India's "neighbors first" policy, in which India has pledged to share the benefits of its economic growth with immediate neighbors — a move seen trying to offset China's influence.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year had avoided Maldives in his tour of neighboring island states. He did not specify a reason but it was seen as avoiding controversy amid political unrest in the Maldives that followed the arrest of the country's pro-India ex-president and Maldives' increasing tilt towartd China.