Biden aide talks infrastructure with Saudi prince

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden’s top national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, along with officials from India and the UAE. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss building a vast infrastructure network that would connect Gulf and Arab countries to India via rail and shipping lanes. This initiative was raised in talks over the last 18 months after the formation of a forum called I2U2, which includes the US, Israel, the UAE and India. The forum was rolled out during Biden’s visit to Israel in July, with the countries’ leaders announcing projects in fields from food security to clean energy.

India’s involvement in the initiative follows major investments in projects like Haifa Port, amid New Delhi’s burgeoning relationship with Israel. Washington views India as a strategic partner in its great power rivalry with China. The US national security advisor discussed with the crown prince and Emirati and Indian officials “plans to advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world”. Washington sees cooperation between Saudi Arabia, India, and Israel as a way to check China’s growing influence in the region.

At the same time, Sullivan’s visit to the kingdom had overlapping purposes. Washington has tried to build on the Abraham Accords by securing the establishment of official diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Before Sullivan’s trip, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, said the country was “very, very hopeful that there will be a breakthrough during his (Sullivan’s) visit there”. At the same time, the US sees cooperation between Saudi Arabia, India, and Israel as a way to check Beijing’s growing influence in the region. The Biden administration was sidelined in March when Riyadh moved to normalize ties with Iran in a deal brokered by China.

Sullivan and Mohammed bin Salman also “reviewed significant progress in talks to further consolidate the now 15-month long truce in Yemen and welcomed ongoing UN-led efforts to bring the war to a close”. Saudi Arabia’s attempts to pivot its foreign policy have been most evident in Sudan, where Riyadh has tried to position itself as a mediator to the conflict, in addition to trumpeting its work evacuating some Sudanese and foreign nationals from the country. With US backing, Riyadh hosted talks between representatives of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his rival, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. A Saudi official told the AFP on Monday that ceasefire talks in the kingdom between Sudan’s warring generals have yielded “no major progress” so far, dampening hopes for a quick end to the fighting.

The meeting between Sullivan and the crown prince comes at a time when ties between the US and Saudi Arabia are under strain. Although Washington has attempted to patch up ties, Sullivan’s trip comes as Riyadh has irked the US by pursuing a more independent foreign and energy policy. Riyadh has entered ceasefire talks with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has shifted from the muscular foreign policy that characterised the early years of Mohammed bin Salman’s rule.

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