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India, Israel, UAE, US ‘I2U2’ group convenes to strategize over international food security

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth Jose W. Fernandez says the group “reinforces the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to build on the Abraham Accords.”

From left: Brett McGurk, deputy assistant to the U.S. President and White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa; Jose W. Fernandez, U.S. Under Secretary of State for economic growth, energy and the environment; Ronen Levi, director-general at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Dammu Ravi, secretary (economic relations) at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs; and Ahmed Al Sayegh, UAE minister of state. Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department.
From left: Brett McGurk, deputy assistant to the U.S. President and White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa; Jose W. Fernandez, U.S. Under Secretary of State for economic growth, energy and the environment; Ronen Levi, director-general at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Dammu Ravi, secretary (economic relations) at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs; and Ahmed Al Sayegh, UAE minister of state. Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department.

India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States—the group known as the I2U2—convened in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 22 to discuss food security. Following the meeting, a top U.S. official told reporters that the group collectively and with other nations aims to make a dent in the current international food crisis.

Jose W. Fernandez, U.S. under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, made the trip to the UAE with Cary Fowler, U.S. special envoy for global food security. Fernandez led the meeting with UAE Minister of State Ahmed Al Sayegh; Dammu Ravi, secretary of economic relations at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs; and Ronen Levy, director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The I2U2 group, which is nearly a year-and-a-half old, helps those in the region better integrate economies and pursue a positive agenda in the Middle East and Asia, the under secretary stated on the call with reporters.

“It serves as a model for promoting trusted regional partnerships that can create collaborative commercial opportunities and good-paying jobs,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez added that the I2U2 facilitates increasing joint investments and initiatives across six sectors: water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security.

“I2U2 reinforces the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to build on the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements to advance regional integration here in the Middle East,” he said.

The four nations established I2U2 in October 2021 as an intergovernmental economic cooperation forum. The group formed during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call with Israeli, Emirati and Indian counterparts.

U.S. President Joe Biden, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mohamed Bin Zayed—then the de facto UAE ruler and now its president—attended a virtual I2U2 meeting last July.

In that meeting, the leaders agreed to an Israeli-backed food corridor between the UAE and India to combat wheat shortages due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Israel and the UAE backed $300 million in funding for clean-energy projects in India.

Fernandez told reporters the next day, Feb. 23, that the food-corridor and clean-energy funding are “part of an effort by the four countries to find ways to mitigate the hunger that we’re seeing around the world, and we’re seeing exacerbated by the invasion.”

“We are committed to supporting efforts to identify new markets and build food systems because we think that’s the only way to reduce the immense demand for humanitarian assistance and to deal with food security,” he said.

The I2U2 is working to increase its capacity to “provide sufficient, affordable and nutritious food by, among other things, promoting agriculture, and also seeing how we can adapt and prepare for the anticipated effects of climate change,” continued Fernandez. He told reporters that the group’s projects will draw in other nations as well.

‘A day of celebration for Israel’
As China’s influence grows in Western Asia, Fernandez insisted that the I2U2 would not confront other nations, but instead would collaborate and partner with the public and private sectors to tackle problems. Technologies, particularly green ones, are an area of emphasis for all four countries.

Following the call with reporters, Fernandez traveled to Oman for the first session of the U.S.-Oman Strategic Dialogue. That day, Oman announced its intent to open its airspace to all airlines, including Israeli ones. That marked a major diplomatic achievement that also significantly shortens the distance and time it takes Israeli flights headed east.

Washington had previously secured Saudi flyover permission, but it needed Oman to come on board to have much practical effect.

In response to a question from JNS, Fernandez said he was unaware of any connection between the onset of the Strategic Dialogue and Oman’s airspace announcement. The dialogue focused on trade and investment, clean energy, and strengthening cultural and educational ties, he said.

Israeli officials credited the U.S. State Department and White House with helping make the airspace arrangement a reality. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen thanked Biden, White House staff, the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem “for promoting the move and accompanying it all the way to its success.”

“This is definitely a day of celebration for Israel,” he said.

Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said Oman’s announcement “promotes President Biden’s vision of a more integrated, stable and prosperous Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the American people and our regional partners.”

“For the first time in history, passengers flying to and from Israel will now be able to travel on direct routes between Israel, Asia and points in between,” she said. “The United States was pleased to support these efforts through months of quiet diplomatic engagement.”

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