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Biden, Modi to announce transport project linking India to EU via Middle East

NEW DELHI — US President Joe Biden and his allies plan to roll out plans on Saturday for a shipping corridor that would connect India with the Middle East and ultimately Europe — a possible game changer for global trade to be announced at the Group of 20 summit.

The proposed memorandum of understanding for a shipping and rail transportation corridor would include the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and other countries in the G20, said Jon Finer, the president’s deputy national security adviser.

The agreement comes with Washington actively engaging with Saudi Arabia, encouraging it to normalize ties with Israel.

“This has been the result of months of careful diplomacy, quiet, careful diplomacy, bilaterally and in multilateral settings,” Finer added.

This project “has enormous potential but exactly how long it takes, I don’t know,” Finer added.

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Sources familiar with the matter recently told the Axios news site that if such a normalization deal is reached, Israel could be included in the joint railway project, which was first envisioned during a meeting of the I2U2 forum of the US, Israel, the UAE and India.

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet at the White House on May 18, 2022. (Khalid bin Salman/Twitter)

Trains from Jordan could cross into Israel at Beit She’an and arrive at the Haifa port on the Mediterranean.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously discussed the possibility of a train linking Israel to Saudi Arabia.

But an Israel-Saudi normalization deal will likely hinge on major Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, which Netanyahu’s hardline government is unlikely to offer.

Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plan to announce the project as part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The rail and shipping corridor would enable greater trade among the countries, including energy products. It could also be one of the more ambitious counters to China’s own belt and road initiative that sought to connect more of the world to that country’s economy.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves as he arrives at Bharat Mandapam convention center for the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci,Pool)

Finer laid out three big rationales for the project in a call with reporters. He said first that the corridor would increase prosperity among the countries involved by increasing the flow of energy and digital communications. Second, the project would help to address the lack of infrastructure needed for growth in lower- and middle-income nations. And third, Finer said it could help “turn the temperature down” on “turbulence and insecurity” coming out of the Middle East.

“We see this as having a high appeal to the countries involved, and also globally, because it is transparent, because it is a high standard, because it is not coercive,” Finer said.

Finer also laid out Biden’s agenda at the G20. The first section of the summit revolves around the theme of “One Earth.” The US president plans to draw on the theme to push for more investments to address climate change, such as his own domestic incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy. Biden also wants to make the case that Russia’s war in Ukraine is hurting many other nations, which have had to cope with greater food and energy costs as well as higher interest rate costs on their debt.

The second section of the summit is about “One Family.” Biden plans to use this portion to discuss his request to Congress for additional funding for the World Bank that could generate more than $25 billion in new lending for economic development.

The White House more broadly is trying to strengthen the G20 as an international forum, while Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have chosen not to attend. Still, China and Russia are represented at the summit and that could make it difficult for the G20 to produce a joint statement on the war in Ukraine, Finer said.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hand with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Even before the summit began, its importance was called into question when Xi decided to skip the meeting and send his number two, Premier Li Qiang, to India instead.

Russia’s seat is taken by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with diplomatic opprobrium and war crimes charges keeping Putin from the summit.

“While we’ve all read and maybe you all have written a lot of analysis about who is or isn’t in Delhi for the summit, and why or why not that may be, the United States is focused on the fact that President Biden is here and rolling up his sleeves with the other G20 countries and partners to produce real results,” Finer said.