In new ‘Quad’ meet with U.S, Saudi and UAE, Doval discusses infrastructure initiatives in Gulf

Visit to Saudi Arabia among many high-profile visits by Doval, who was in Tehran last week

May 08, 2023 09:47 pm | Updated May 09, 2023 06:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A file photo of Ajit Doval with White House National Security Adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan

A file photo of Ajit Doval with White House National Security Adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan | Photo Credit: ANI

Saudi Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Salman hosted a special meeting of the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India, the U.S. and the UAE, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Sunday, in what is being billed as another important “Quad” in West Asia.  

The meeting, to consider regional initiatives on infrastructure, was billed last week by U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan as “unlike anything seen in the region in recent years”. The visit by the NSA is significant as it follows a week after his visit to Iran, which recently agreed to restart ties with Saudi Arabia in a meeting brokered by Beijing.

The MEA and the National Security Council did not comment on Mr. Doval’s travels, but both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government issued formal statements on the discussions.

“During the meeting, [the leaders] discussed means to strengthen relations and ties between their countries in a way that enhances growth and stability in the region,” said the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the meetings that included the UAE NSA and Deputy Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Tahnoun, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Mr. Doval.

A U.S. White House statement said the meeting sought to “advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world.” 

Ahead of Modi’s visit

In particular, the bilateral meeting between Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Doval, is one of a number of meetings set over the next few weeks to prepare for upcoming meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Joseph Biden this month, and the PM’s state visit to the U.S. in June. U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti will finally present his credentials to President Draupadi Murmu on May 11, and is expected to begin formal meetings on preparations for the state visit.

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Doval will meet again “on the margins of the Quad Summit later this month in Australia,” announced a White House statement on Monday. Mr. Modi is due to travel to Hiroshima as part of the G-7 outreach to other countries (May 19-21), which President Biden will attend; to Papua New Guinea for a bilateral visit where Mr. Biden will also be making a visit at the same time (May 21-23); and then meet Mr. Biden at the US-India-Australia-Japan Quad summit in Sydney (May 24) as well. 

The visit to Saudi Arabia is one of several high-profile engagements abroad by Mr. Doval, who was in Tehran and met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, NSA Shamkhani and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last Monday. In January, Mr. Doval visited Washington, and met with a number of senior officials for talks on technology cooperation, followed by a visit to London, where British PM Rishi Sunak dropped into his meeting with his U.K. counterpart, and Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit for a meet of regional NSAs.

The quadrilateral meeting that saw Mr. Doval fly to Jeddah, was first reported by news portal Axios from Tel Aviv, which said the meetings on infrastructure were meant to provide a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative and other inroads in the region.

Quoting U.S. officials in its report, Axios had said that among the projects is a plan to connect Gulf countries via a railway network and connect to India via shipping lanes from “two ports” in the region”. However, it did not explain how this would differ from the already existing connections between India and the Gulf region.

In a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy ahead of the visit, Mr. Sullivan said his meetings in Saudi Arabia were meant to “discuss new areas of cooperation between New Delhi and the Gulf as well as the United States and the rest of the region, fuelled in part by the comprehensive economic partnership signed last year between India and the UAE.” “And this can help us carry forward some very tangible initiatives that we think will be unlike anything that we have seen in the region in recent years”.

He also mentioned the I2U2 Quad, a grouping of the U.S., India, the UAE and Israel, which works on connecting “South Asia to the Middle East to the United States in ways that advance economic technology and diplomacy”. 

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