Biden to hold virtual meet with Modi during July tour of West Asia


The US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and UAE President Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahan during his maiden West Asia tour from July 13 to 16.

The virtual meeting will be the first meeting of a new group of four nations India, Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, called I2U2, bearing the first letter of the four countries.

The first summit will be held during Biden’s visit to Israel, the first leg of his maiden trip as President to West Asia from July 13 to 16. He will also visit the West Bank, home to the state of Palestine, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he will meet around a dozen regional leaders, including a possible meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The trip to Saudi Arabia assumes significance as Biden has once described Saudi as “pariah”. The US President’s engagement with the Saudi Crown Prince is being seen as a policy reversal for the Biden administration. However, that Biden will be traveling directly to Jeddah from Israel, and not the Saudi capital Riyadh has set tongues rolling on whether the trip would be a few notches below a state visit.

A senior White House official on a background call with reporters about the visit said that the new initiative will be launched in a virtual call that Biden will hold with Modi, Bennet, and President Nahyan.

They will discuss security and “areas of cooperation across hemispheres where UAE and Israel serve as important innovation hubs”, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and went on to describe the meeting as a “unique engagement”. No other details were available about this new initiative, its goals, and reach.

During his stay in Israel, Biden will also meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, possibly in the West Bank’s Bethlehem to discuss the prospects of restarting peace talks.

A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said I2U2 was inaugurated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in October 2021 and the virtual summit is a follow on “from that initial touch point”.

The Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had held a meeting with his counterparts from the remaining three countries in the quad in October 2021 during his visit to Israel. Then the new group was called ‘International Forum for Economic Cooperation.”

Significantly, Prime Minister Modi will be in UAE towards the end of June en route to Germany for the G7 summit from June 26 to 28. This will be Modi’s first visit to the West Asian country since the controversy over remarks made by two BJP spokesperson (Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, now suspended and expelled respectively) on Prophet Mohammad, had sparked outrage. Modi’s visit is expected to assuage the West Asian nation.

Likewise, Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be closely watched considering the strained ties between the current US dispensation and the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, considered the de facto ruler of the country, as his father King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is 86 years old and ailing.

In Jeddah, Biden will participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, that includes Egypt. Jordab, Iraq and the other monarchies of the region.

Biden had called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state and released an intelligence report on Khashoggi’s killing that points to the crown prince’s involvement. Trump, who had forged very strong ties with the Saudi royals, had withheld the report. Since taking office, Biden had restricted his communications with the Saudi leadership to the king, cutting out the crown prince, who is considered the de facto ruler of the country, entirely.

The Saudi crown prince who is accused by the US of ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist. MBS, as the prince is known, has denied any involvement.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, a worldwide rise in energy prices and a growing nuclear threat from Iran is believed to have forced Biden’s hands to extend towards a long-standing ally in the Middle East.

Sky high fuel prices in the US have become a political liability for the Biden administration. The US has been insisting the Saudi-led OPEC Plus collective to increase oil production.

Biden’s visit to West Asia is expected to bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel, though Saudi has still not recognized Israel and has no diplomatic ties, with the signing of some agreements, including one to allow commercial flights from Israel to fly over Saudi airspace. Biden recently praised Saudi Arabia’s role in extending truce in Yemen, where a Saudi-led war has been raging for years.