The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval held a meeting with his counterparts from the US, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, on Sunday (7 May) in Saudi Arabia.
The meeting was to discuss a proposal by the White House to connect West Asian countries by utilising Indian expertise in rail connectivity, and create sea lanes linking the region to South Asia.
This includes the creation of railway, maritime, and road links between South Asia and the Middle East. The meeting is expected to shape the overall direction of the project.
The White House aims to promote key initiatives in the Middle East amid China's growing influence in the region, the report says. The Middle East plays a crucial role in China's Belt and Road vision.
The report said, “The US, Saudi, Emirati and Indian national security advisers are expected on Sunday to discuss a possible major joint infrastructure project to connect Gulf and Arab countries via a network of railways that would also be connected to India via shipping lanes from ports in the region”.
India, on the other hand, is ready to take part in the project for three key reasons.
First, India is concerned about Beijing's expanding political influence in the West Asian region, particularly in light of the recent breakthrough in ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
This development could have potential implications for India's interests in the region, given its reliance on West Asia for energy security.
However, improved connectivity will allow for faster transportation of crude oil, thus minimising India's costs in the long term.
Additionally, the boost in connectivity will benefit India's eight million citizens living and working in the Gulf region.
Second, the proposed connectivity project is expected to provide several benefits to India including allowing India to extend its expertise as an infrastructure builder in the railways sector and establish itself as a reputable brand in the industry.
Given India's robust railway infrastructure at home and past successes in creating similar infrastructure in Sri Lanka, India is confident in its ability to do the same abroad.
Moreover, the project aims to encourage both private firms and public sector enterprises to explore the economic and infrastructure opportunities in the region, further consolidating India's position as a key player in the Indo-Pacific.
The project will also serve as a counter to China's Belt and Road initiative, which has caused concern among other countries in the region due to infrastructure projects that are not always useful.
The proposed project also aligns with the US's Blue Dot network, financial sustainability, and viability, further supporting India's endeavors.
Finally, the Indian government seeks improved connectivity with its western neighbours as Pakistan obstructs overland transit routes.
India aims to utilise shipping routes through ports in West Asia, such as Chabahar and Bandar-e-Abbas in Iran, Duqm in Oman, Dubai in the UAE, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait City.
These projects enhance connectivity across the Gulf and Arab nations while creating trading opportunities that benefit India.
The initiative was first proposed by Israel as part of the I2U2 forum comprising the US, Israel, the UAE and India, the report says. The forum discussed strategic infrastructure projects in West Asia during talks held over the last 18 months.
"With a focus on China, Israel raised the idea of connecting the region through railways during the I2U2 meetings over the last year. Part of the idea was to use India’s expertise on such big infrastructure projects," a former Israeli official was quoted as saying in the report.
According to the report, the Biden administration has included Saudi Arabia in a plan to link Arab countries in the Levant and Gulf through a railway network, connecting them with seaports in the Gulf that lead to India.
United States NSA, Jake Sullivan hinted at this initiative during his speech on Thursday (4 May) at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If you remember nothing else from my speech, remember I2U2, because you will be hearing more about it as we go forward,” he said.
Sullivan said, it aims to link South Asia, Middle East, and the US to enhance economic, technological, and diplomatic progress. He added that a number of projects are already underway, along with “some new exciting steps that we are looking forward to undertaking in the months ahead”.
Sullivan stated that regional integration is a key part of the Biden administration's Middle East strategy.
Sullivan further said, “A more integrated, interconnected Middle East empowers our allies and partners, advances regional peace and prosperity, and reduces the resource demands on the US in this region over the long term without sacrificing our fundamental interests or our involvement in the region”.
According to the report, Israel is not currently involved in the initiative, but may be included in the future if relations in the area improve.
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