U.S. Discusses Middle East to India Rail and Port Network Project to Thwart China's Influence

U.S. Discusses Middle East to India Rail and Port Network Project to Thwart China's Influence
Jake Sullivan

The Lede: The U.S., Saudi Arabia, India, and the United Arab Emirates have discussed a transport infrastructure project amid China’s growing influence in the region.

What We Know:

  • U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan met with his Indian and Emirati counterparts Ajit Doval and Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to discuss the plan with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The project would involve the establishment of a network of railways among cooperating Middle Eastern countries that would be connected to India through shipping lanes at regional ports.
  • Israel is part of the shared vision but was not part of the meeting due to the absence of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.

The Background: The idea for such a transport infrastructure project was first shared at I2U2, a forum established in 2021 for India, Israel, the U.S., and the UAE to discuss infrastructure projects in the Middle East as well as challenges involving water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security. Saudi Arabia was added to the discussions recently. I2U2 held its first summit in July 2022.

Likely Outcomes:

  • This project may give the U.S. hope that it may include Saudi Arabia among the countries in the region that it has assisted in establishing ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords. That would be a win for the U.S. in the region.
  • The U.S. will be leaning on more cooperative endeavors, particularly on economic development and infrastructure projects, to stay relevant in the Middle East as China rapidly expands its influence in the region. Washington still has significant sway as the long-time partner of many Gulf states and Israel, especially with the increased diplomatic and economic ties that emerged after the Abraham Accords. However, the U.S. introducing a new infrastructure project shortly after China made a splash by brokering the restoration of Saudi-Iranian diplomatic ties seems like an obvious answer to the infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • With China’s relations with the Gulf states becoming increasingly aligned, Beijing could be so bold as to make a proposal that would directly lift the idea of a Middle East to South Asia infrastructure network and incorporate it into the Belt and Road framework. A network from China’s side may include Pakistan rather than India.


“A more integrated, interconnected Middle East empowers our allies and partners, advances regional peace and prosperity, and reduces the resource demands on the U.S. in this region over the long term without sacrificing our fundamental interests or our involvement in the region." – Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security advisor

Good Reads:

U.S. eyes Mideast-India transport network to counter China (Nikkei)

Senior US official in Saudi Arabia to discuss massive rail project with UAE, India (Times of Israel)

In Saudi Arabia, US national security advisor discusses Mideast ‘interconnected’ with India (JNS)