India is in talks with nations such as the United States of America and Saudi Arabia to discuss a joint infrastructural deal that will connect the Gulf and Arab countries via an extensive network of railway ports. The initial report of these talks indicated that the project is likely to be announced on September 9, 2023, even as New Delhi will be hosting US President Joe Biden and other leaders of the 20th G20 Summit, including Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman from Saudi Arabia
The deal could be a key initiative in West Asia, where Chinese influence is rising and expanding, the American newsletter Axios said in its report. West Asia (Middle East) is also a part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) vision, it noted.
The Biden Administration is planning to aim and finalise the large-scale deal with Saudi Arabia, possibly including a normalisation agreement with Israel before the 2024 Presidential Elections campaign takes over Biden’s schedule. The project, according to Axios, is anticipated to link the Arab nations in the Levant and Gulf through a railway network which will extend to India via Gulf Seaports.
This initiative was proposed during the discussions going on for the past 18 months at the I2U2 forum, which includes countries like the US, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India. It was established in late 2021 to discuss the strategic infrastructure projects in West Asia and counterbalance Beijing’s regional influence.
Israel proposed the idea of connecting the region via railways during the I2U2 meetings over the past year, with part of the plan involving India’s expertise in large infrastructural projects. The Biden administration later extended the idea to include Saudi Arabia’s participation, Axios said
The White House, however, declined to comment on the deal when asked for the confirmation by Axios. A US official involved in the talks said that the work on the announcement is still ongoing and not finalised yet, as reported by Axios. The Indian and Saudi Embassies in Washington also did not immediately respond to the requests for comment. The Emirati officials, too, declined to comment.
About the I2U2
Also known as the West Asian Quad or QUAD 2.0, the initiative is composed of four countries, namely India, Israel, the US and the UAE. I2U2 identifies six areas of cooperation and investment, namely – water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.
It intends to mobilise private sector capital and expertise to help modernise infrastructure, develop low-carbon development pathways for industries, improve public health, and promote the development of critical emerging and green technologies in member countries. The countries deny any military angle to their cooperation with the agenda of the mini-lateral focused on economic and infrastructural development.
Significance for India
UAE will invest $2 billion USD to develop a series of integrated food parks across India that will incorporate state-of-the-art climate-smart technologies to reduce food waste and spoilage, conserve fresh water, and employ renewable energy sources.
The I2U2 group will also advance a hybrid renewable energy project in Gujarat consisting of 300 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar capacity, complemented by a battery energy storage system. The Strategic focus of I2U2 aligns with India’s goal to counter Chinese penetration into West Asia.
With this, it is evident that the US and West Asian countries are realising the importance of India in handling regional issues.