IMEEC, I2U2 progress could be paused due to Israel-Hamas conflict: U.S. envoy

IMEEC, I2U2 progress could be paused due to Israel-Hamas conflict: U.S. envoy

U.S. Ambassador Garcetti hails progress at India-U.S. 2+2 dialogue this month, pushes for talks on Artificial Intelligence

The Israel-Hamas conflict and bombardment of Gaza could “pause” progress on India-U.S. trade, and connectivity initiatives, including the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) and the India-Israel-UAE-U.S. (I2U2) groupings, U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti said, but that the ideas would “stand the test of time”.  Speaking about the India-U.S. 2+2 dialogue held on November 10, Ambassador Garcetti said that bilateral cooperation is growing in several domains. He also said that the two countries must advance their engagement on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), highlighting dangers that had been outlooked by both U.S. President Joseph Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at different events last week.  

However, the Ambassador was non-committal about Mr. Biden’s appearance at the virtual G-20 summit to be hosted by Mr. Modi on November 22, as well as whether he would accept India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and attend the Quad Summit in January 2024.

“I do think that there is a fundamental logic to the IMEEC and I2U2 agreements, and these ideas will stand the test of time. But there’s no question that the conflict will give some pause to them,” Mr. Garcetti said in response to a question from The Hindu on the impact of repercussions from the Israel-Hamas conflict that has seen thousands killed in the past few weeks.

“The region is not capable, I would argue the world is not capable of dreaming of building something new when there’s an ongoing war, and that’s just the reality of conflict,” he said, speaking at a roundtable event organised by the Observer Research Foundation on November 20. 

When asked about Mr. Biden’s confirmation for the G-20 virtual summit as well as the White House response to the Republic Day and Quad invitations, Mr. Garcetti that a “determination” on the U.S. President’s availability had not been made yet. The G-20 summit on Thursday coincides with the American Thanksgiving festival, while the January dates for Republic Day and the Quad could see other “scheduling difficulties”. 

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure, especially with two elections in both countries [India and the U.S.], that the Quad summit is scheduled,” Mr. Garcetti said, also pointing to the Japanese Prime Minister’s parliamentary obligations, and the Australian National Day that also falls on the Indian Republic Day. “Nobody should mistake the President’s highest regard for one of the most consequential relationships in the world,” he stressed, however, referring to the India-U.S. relationship.

“We have made important steps toward strengthening our major defence partnership, which continues to grow, increasing the acceleration that we have seen through initiatives like the roadmap U.S.-India in industrial cooperation and defence,” Mr. Garcetti said, briefing journalists, academics and analysts at the event about the 2+2 dialogue with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin visiting Delhi and meeting External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh earlier this month. He also said that while the two sides had made no concrete proposal, India and the U.S. should initiate a dialogue on AI.

“If you don’t get out in front of AI, the consequences, even if it’s a small percentage likelihood, of something catastrophic happening, with artificial intelligence in biotech and warfare, could be sooner than we believe,” Mr. Garcetti warned, adding on a lighter note that the new dialogue could even be named the “America India Artificial Intelligence Agreement Initiative (AIAIAI)“.

When asked about the problem of long delays in granting U.S. visas for Indians. Mr. Garcetti said that the U.S. was increasing its staff strength and hopes to open new consulates in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru soon. 

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