India, US, Saudi Arabia, UAE May Sign Regional Railway Connectivity Pact On G20 Summit's Sidelines: Report

The joint connectivity project aims to connect Gulf and Arab countries through a network of railways that would also be connected to India through shipping lanes from ports in the Middle East region, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden

India, United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hope to sign a regional railway connectivity agreement on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, according to a report. 

The report says the talks have been going on among the countries for over a year and there is also the possibility of Israel joining the agreement if relationship with the Saudi Arabia is normalised — something the Biden administration hopes happens before 2024 presidential elections. 

The proposed project would include rail connectivity between the Gulf and Levant regions and also connection to India through sea ports, reported Axios on Thursday.

Upon the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Saudi Arabia, which the United States is pushing for, the plan is also expected to include Israel.

Axios reports, "The project is expected to connect Arab countries in the Levant and the Gulf via a network of railways that will also connect to India through seaports in the Gulf, the sources said. If Saudi Arabia and Israel normalize relations in the future, Israel could also be part of the railway project and broaden its reach to Europe via Israeli seaports, according to the sources."

The Lavent is the historic region of eastern Mediterranean shores in the largest Middle East (which India calls West Asia) which roughly covers the present-day Iraq, Syrua, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and surrounding areas. 

The talks are not yet final and have been going on for the past 18 months under a multilateral framework founded in 2021, according to Axios.

Axios reports, "The idea for the new initiative came up during talks that were held over the last 18 months in another forum called I2U2, which includes the U.S., Israel, the UAE and India, according to the two sources. The forum was established in late 2021 to discuss strategic infrastructure projects in the Middle East and to serve as a counterweight to Beijing's growing influence in the region."

The report says that Israel had raised the idea of connecting the region through railways in I2U2 meetings. India is set to play a key role in the plan as the report says the grouping acknowledged Indian expertise in such projects.

If the talks are finalised before the conclusion of the G-20 Summit, then the leaders would sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Saturday and a bilateral meeting could also take place between Biden and Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, said the report.

India has warm relationships with each of the participating countries. The United States also has very close ties with Israel and India-Israeli relationship has also grown in recent years with a personal push from Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. The connectivity project is also part of the broader plan to integrate and stabilise the Middle Eastern region which was for decades destabilised over the opposition to Israel from Arab countries over the issue of Palestine. In recent years, however, the countries are like the UAE and Bahrain have normalised ties with Israel with support from the United States and normalisation with the Saudis also appears to be on the cards in near future.