Senior officials from the United States, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates convened in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday for the so-called I2U2 Group focused on economic development and food security amid global climate change.
The meetings were led by UAE Minister of State Ahmed Al Sayegh; Jose Fernandez, US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment; Dammu Ravi, joint secretary of India's External Affairs Ministry; and Ronen Levy, director-general of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“I2U2 provides a new regional platform to deepen economic integration, and an affirmative agenda within the Middle East, Asia and beyond,” Fernandez said today in Abu Dhabi. “It serves as a model for promoting trusted regional partnerships that can create collaborative commercial opportunities and good-paying jobs.”
During the meetings on Wednesday, India threw its support behind a US-led food security initiative unveiled by President Joe Biden at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021, according to Indian media. More than 40 countries have already pledged some $8 billion to the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate.
“We all must do our part and act urgently to respond to the crisis of climate change,” Fernandez said today in Abu Dhabi. “We must ensure that the basic prerequisites for improved agricultural production are in place: good soils and crop varieties adapted to climate change.”
Also on Wednesday, UAE climate envoy Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber praised India’s goal of adding 500 gigawatts of clean energy over the next several years and held out the possibility of UAE partnership.
Background: The I2U2 group was formally established during a call by top US diplomat Antony Blinken to Israeli, Emirati and Indian counterparts in October 2021.
Biden and Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE, along with prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Yair Lapid of Israel, convened virtually for the first time under the I2U2 banner last July.
During that meeting, the leaders agreed to establish an Israeli-backed food corridor between the UAE and India amid global wheat shortages due to the war in Ukraine, and agreed on Emirati and Israeli support for $300 million worth of clean energy projects in India.
Strategic imperative: The initiative came as the US seeks to counter China by building strategic blocs of economic and security cooperation across continents.
Within the Middle East, the Biden administration has sought to expand the Abraham Accords, in which the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have normalized ties with Israel in a US-led effort to foster security in the region.
Analysts say the I2U2 forum further aligns the interests of Middle Eastern economic and defense powers with those of India, which boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy by GDP and a population that is set to eclipse China’s this year.
At the same time, the Biden administration has built upon the Trump administration’s revival of the George W. Bush-era Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — or “Quad” — a strategic forum between Australia, Japan, India and the United States.
Mohammed Soliman, director of the strategic technologies and cybersecurity program at the Middle East Institute in Washington who first called for an “Indo-Abrahamic bloc” in an essay in July 2021, has suggested that the I2U2 Group could be expanded and linked to the Quad to enable the United States to outflank China’s influence in the Middle East and South Asia – a region he refers to as “West Asia.”
“In my view, Washington’s perspectives on trade have shifted: The era of trading access to the US market in return for geopolitical alignments with US foreign policy choices is bygone. The I2U2 Business Forum is no exception to this trend,” Soliman told Al-Monitor on Wednesday.
He said, “This is why I consider the I2U2 to be much closer in nature to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aims to strengthen trade and technology cooperation between the US and some Indo-Pacific economies — and includes India as well — and is neither a formal trade agreement nor does it offer market access.”
“The inclusion of more nations — namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia — into this geo-economic and geopolitical framework will be a crucial element of its capacity to transform West Asia economically,” Soliman added.
What’s next: The Biden administration aims to expand the I2U2’s nascent cooperation on food security and energy to eventually include tech innovation, including cooperation on space programs and semiconductor production, officials have said.
“Our strategy is sustained commitment and coordination. We are already on that path,” Fernandez said today.
On the climate front, the UAE is slated to host this year’s COP28 climate summit, following Egypt last year.
Know more: Read Salim Essaid’s recap of Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ decision to remain neutral amid US-led international pressure on Russia for its war against Ukraine.