Biden heads to G20 summit focused on Ukraine war and reforming World Bank

White House officials have not confirmed if President Joe Biden will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines

President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for a trip to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi. AFP
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US President Joe Biden is on his way to New Delhi to attend the G20 Leaders' Summit, where he hopes to advance his vision on how to confront Russia's war on Ukraine, and show US commitment to developing economies.

Shortly after landing in India on Friday, Mr Biden is scheduled to meet with the summit's host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has continued to rely on Russian oil and is yet to condemn Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"We know that there will be continued focus on how the G20 deals with Russia’s illegal and ongoing war in Ukraine," White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said.

"The reality is that Russia’s war has already had devastating social, economic consequences, and the poorest countries on the planet are bearing the brunt of that."

This year's summit will be notable for the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In March, a G20 Foreign Ministers summit failed to produce a joint declaration condemning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, amid objections from Beijing and Moscow over how to refer to the war.

"Of course he's [Mr Biden] disappointed that President Xi won’t be able to make it to the G20," Mr Kirby said.

"There is an awful lot that will be discussed at the G20 which should be of interest to President Xi and to Beijing, particularly our efforts to help reform the World Bank."

The Biden administration has requested $3.3 billion from the US Congress to fund the World Bank, which officials say will generate $25 billion in extra capacity.

Mr Biden is hoping to provide the developing nations in Asia, Latin America and Africa with an alternative to China's global development plan, known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

"We believe that there should be high-standard, non-coercive lending options available to low and middle-income countries – that’s a fact," US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week.

"It’s also a fact that World Bank reform is not about China, in no small part because China is a shareholder in the World Bank."

On the sidelines of the summit, Mr Biden may also meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to media reports, amid sustained US efforts to broker a deal normalising relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Before Mr Biden's 2024 re-election campaign, his administration's agenda in the Middle East has focused on further integrating Israel into the region through the Abraham Accords, a 2020 treaty through which Israel established relations with the UAE and Bahrain, then Morocco and Sudan.

Mr Sullivan met the Crown Prince in Riyadh in July for talks aimed at “advancing a common vision in the region".

"If there's a Biden-MBS meeting, it may be situated more in some of the discussions that Sullivan had with the Saudis as well as the Emiratis and Indians earlier this spring, talking about regional co-operation, regional infrastructure projects," Brian Katulis, vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The National.

"But if we're talking about the separate file of Israel-Saudi normalisation deal, there's a lot of complicated issues on the US-Saudi bilateral front, which I don't think are ripe yet. I think that they're still in the very early stages."

Mr Katulis said Washington and Riyadh are still continuing discussions about arms sales, a defence treaty, and US support for a civilian nuclear programme that would include enriching uranium in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has also long maintained that progress towards peace with the Palestinians would be required before normalisation talks with Israel.

Updated: September 08, 2023, 3:21 AM