India, Israel, US and UAE to set up forum for economic cooperation
India, Israel, the US and the UAE on Monday decided to set up an international forum for economic cooperation with special attention to joint infrastructure projects and maritime security during their first meeting in this Jerusalem-initiated process that is being billed by some observers as another Quad.
The meeting was held in the virtual format and coincided with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s ongoing visit to Israel. While Jaishankar and his host, Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and foreign minister Yair Lapid, sat in on the meeting together, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and UAE’s foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed joined through video link.
The meeting comes at a time when Israel and the UAE — both long-standing allies of the US — have deepened their engagement with China. This quadrilateral format for cooperation between the four like-minded countries was proposed by Lapid during his recent visit to Washington to mark the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords along with his UAE counterpart.
The Accords — seen by some foreign policy experts as an effort by the US to break the momentum of the growing partnership between Israel and China under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s watch — normalised diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, and paved the way for Emirati capital to enter Israel.
In a readout on the meeting, the Israeli foreign ministry quoted Lapid as saying: “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. I think the word we’re looking for here is synergy, because this is what we’re going to try and create starting with this meeting. Synergy that will help us work together on infrastructure, digital infrastructure, transport, maritime security and other things that preoccupy us all.”
Elaborating on what he has in mind, Lapid said: “The key to success is how quickly can we move from ‘government-to-government’ to ‘business-to-business’. How quickly can we turn this into a working process that will put boots on the ground, changing infrastructure around the world.”
During the meeting, the four ministers — who plan to hold an in-person meeting during the ongoing Dubai Expo — explored possibilities for joint infrastructure projects in the fields of transportation, technology, maritime security, and economics and trade.
They agreed to appoint senior-level professionals to a joint working group that will formulate options for cooperation in the shortlisted areas.
In a separate readout, US state department spokesman Ned Price said the four ministers discussed expanding economic and political cooperation in West Asia and rest of Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security. Also on the table are people-to-people ties in technology and science, and how to support global public health in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was no Indian readout on the meeting. The only official word came from Jaishankar through a tweet: “A fruitful first meeting with Israeli APM and FM @YairLapid, UAE FM @ABZayed and US Secretary of State @SecBlinken this evening. Discussed working together more closely on economic growth and global issues. Agreed on expeditious follow-up.’’
A fruitful first meeting with Israeli APM and FM @YairLapid, UAE FM @ABZayed and US Secretary of State @SecBlinken this evening.— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 18, 2021
Discussed working together more closely on economic growth and global issues. Agreed on expeditious follow-up. pic.twitter.com/kVgFM0r6hs
While none of the official readouts mentioned China, the plan to have joint infrastructure projects and cooperate on maritime security indicate an effort to pool resources and counter the growing Chinese footprint in West Asia and rest of the continent.