Infra projects in transport, tech in focus at first meeting of ‘new Quad’
The first meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Israel, the US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) decided to establish an international forum for economic cooperation and discussed joint infrastructure projects in transportation and technology.
The meeting, described in some quarters as a “new Quad”, also focused on ways to expand economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia and to enhance maritime security.
The meeting was joined by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid from Jerusalem, US secretary of state Antony Blinken from Washington and UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan from Abu Dhabi. Jaishankar is currently on a bilateral visit to Israel.
In a tweet, Jaishankar described the discussions as “fruitful” and said the foreign ministers agreed on a speedy follow-up. The Israeli foreign ministry said the four ministers intended hold an in-person meeting at Expo 2020 in Dubai in the coming months.
“Discussed working together more closely on economic growth and global issues. Agreed on expeditious follow-up,” Jaishankar said.
Blinken tweeted that the meeting had focused on “shared issues of concern in the region and globally, and the importance of expanding our economic and political collaboration”.
Lapid, who initiated the process for the meeting during a recent visit to Washington, said at the start of the meeting: “Around this virtual table, there is a unique set of capabilities, knowledge, and experience that can be used to create the network that we all want to see created.”
The synergy between the four countries will help them work together on infrastructure, transport, maritime security and other issues, he said.
The key to success is moving from a “government-to-government” approach to a “business-to-business” approach and turning the initiative into a “working process that will put boots on the ground, changing infrastructure around the world”, Lapid added.
The ministers decided to establish an international forum for economic cooperation, the Israeli foreign ministry said.
The ministers also discussed joint infrastructure projects in transportation, technology, maritime security, and economics and trade, as well as additional joint projects, the ministry added.
Each country will appoint senior professionals to a joint working group that will formulate options for cooperation.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that the foreign ministers “discussed expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security”.
They also discussed people-to-people ties in technology and science, and ways to support global public health in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s “support for the Abraham Accords and normalisation agreements and discussed future opportunities for collaboration in the region and globally”, Price said.
Price also told a news briefing that the US, the UAE, Israel and India share many interests and the meeting was an opportunity for the ministers to discuss a range of topics, including expanding economic and political cooperation in their respective regions, climate change, energy cooperation, and maritime security.
The meeting built on the momentum created by the Abraham Accords of last year, and it was held less than a week after Blinken met Lapid and Sheikh Abdullah in-person in Washington on October 13 to review progress in the normalisation of Israel’s relations with Arab states.
This normalisation can be a force for progress between Israel and Arab states and also between Israelis and Palestinians, Blinken said at the time.
The three countries also launched two working groups on religious coexistence and building tolerance, and on water and energy. The trilateral partnership made it possible for the countries to discuss urgent regional security issues such as Iran and Syria, Blinken said then.
The meeting also dovetailed with India’s efforts to build new plurilateral and multilateral partnerships focused on cooperation in areas ranging from security to connectivity and energy. India has robust defence, security and trade cooperation with Israel and the US, while the UAE is a key energy partner.
The UAE is home to more than three million Indians, and security cooperation has been growing rapidly, with the first ever visit by an Indian Army chief taking place last year.
India has backed the Abraham Accords process, following which Israel also normalised relations with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The external affairs ministry has said these efforts are in line with India’s support for “peace and stability in West Asia which is our extended neighbourhood”.
In May this year, India, Israel and the UAE concluded the first trilateral partnership whereby an Israel-based company will produce a robotic solar cleaning technology in India for a project in the emirates.
A statement issued at the time by the Israeli embassy in New Delhi said the Abraham Accords agreement between Israel and the UAE had “paved the way for friendships and business partnerships across the region”. The statement added: “India being a friend of both the UAE and Israel is clearly the preferred partner to leverage the global potential of the UAE, Israel and India trilateral.”
Former ambassador Vivek Katju, who closely tracks developments in the region, said it remained to be seen how the initiative by the four countries would be perceived across West Asia.
“The real issue is not the agenda of economic cooperation of the four countries but how the purposes of these countries getting together are perceived by the major powers and important regional players. Will they see it as a beginning of India departing radically from its traditional approaches towards West Asia?” he said.