Food security will be the focus of the first-ever summit of a new West Asia-focussed Quad comprising India, Israel, the US and the UAE that will take place virtually during President Joe Biden’s visit to the region this week, starting with Israel.
Biden’s next stop will be Saudi Arabia, which will corner all the hype and attention of his West Asia visit; specially his meeting with Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince who has been accused by the US of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who lived in the US and worked as a columnist with The Washington Post.
The new Quad is called I2U2 (India and Israel are the two Is and the US and the UAE the two Us), and it was launched October 2021. Its defined portfolio is to expand economic and political cooperation in the West Asia and Asia.
Biden will participate in a four-way virtually with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid and UAE’s President Mohammed bin Zayed during his four-day visit to Israel starting Wednesday.
The West Asia Quad is the third four-country group with US as a member launched in recent years. The others are the Quad that the US forms with India, Australia and Japan and the Quad, which grew out of cooperation between these countries in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean; and the one is made with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
Biden will “hold a four way virtual summit with the leaders of Israel, the UAE and India with a focus on food security”, said Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, briefing White House reporters on the upcoming visit on Monday.
Sullivan got no questions about the Quad though.
His boss, Biden, is already facing criticism for his upcoming meeting with bin Salman, including from members of his own Democratic party. The meeting, they argue, marks a major, policy departure for him and other critics of Saudi Arabia, a country he, as a candidate for the White House, had vowed to make a global “pariah” for its appalling human rights record.
Biden pushed back in an Op-Ed in The Washington Post on Saturday. “From the start, my aim was to reorient – but not rupture – relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years,” he wrote in the signed piece. “Today, Saudi Arabia has helped to restore unity among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has fully supported the truce in Yemen and is now working with my experts to help stabilize oil markets with other OPEC producers.”
Saudi Arabia’s efforts to stabilise oil prices, however, may have been top of Biden’s reasons for rethinking his policies. Rising oil prices are hurting him at home and along with highest inflation in 40 years could cripple Democrats in the upcoming midterm polls in November.
The Democrats now control the White House and the two chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Midterms have been historically unkind to the party in power and Democrats are expected to lose Congress, at the least House of Representatives.
But they are hoping to rally their troops and resources the issue of abortion, which was a constitutional right until the Supreme Court outlawed it recently, and gun law reforms. But these are both issues way down on the list of voters, who according to a new CNN poll, hold inflation and gas prices most important.