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US diplomat to meet Mamata

US charge d’affaires ambassador Kathleen Stephens (centre) spent an hour on Wednesday at CINI, the Child In Need Institute’s short-stay home on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road. She discussed child and maternal health care with CINI officials before interacting with children at the home. The kids, aged between six and 14, greeted her with a garland and danced to the song Dhaaker taaley from the film Poran Jai Jolia Re. Stephens handed each child a little brooch with the Indian flag on it. In the afternoon, Stephens visited Presidency University and met vice-chancellor Anuradha Lohia. Stephens interacted with teachers and students on a host of issues, including exchange of teachers and students and research collaboration between Presidency and US universities. She spent close to an hour browsing through the galleries and artefacts at Victoria Memorial. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

US charge d’affaires ambassador Kathleen Stephens (centre) spent an hour on Wednesday at CINI, the Child In Need Institute’s short-stay home on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road.

She discussed child and maternal health care with CINI officials before interacting with children at the home. The kids, aged between six and 14, greeted her with a garland and danced to the song Dhaaker taaley from the film Poran Jai Jolia Re. Stephens handed each child a little brooch with the Indian flag on it.

In the afternoon, Stephens visited Presidency University and met vice-chancellor Anuradha Lohia. Stephens interacted with teachers and students on a host of issues, including exchange of teachers and students and research collaboration between Presidency and US universities. She spent close to an hour browsing through the galleries and artefacts at Victoria Memorial. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Calcutta, Aug. 13: US charge d’affaires ambassador Kathleen Stephens is scheduled to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee at 4pm tomorrow at Nabanna, sources in the state secretariat said this evening.

A charge d’affaires is a diplomatic secretary or a counsellor or a minister who heads a mission in the absence of its titular head.

“I am here to take Indo-US relations to a new level,” said Stephens, who took charge in early July.

If the meeting is held according to schedule, it will be Mamata’s first such session with a visiting foreign diplomat since she met Nancy Powell, the then US ambassador, in May 2013.

Powell, who had tried to “change the chief minister’s mind on FDI in retail” during that meeting, did not get an audience with Mamata during her next visit to Calcutta in February this year.

Sources in the US consulate had described Powell’s failure to meet Mamata as a “disappointment”. The then US ambassador to India had met then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi before her Calcutta visit.

Asked about her chances of meeting the chief minister, Stephens, who interacted with a select group of journalists this evening, said: “I have a good schedule tomorrow.”

The fact that Stephens and other officials of the US consulate were guarded about the prospect of the meeting was an indication that they did not want to make any announcements before the session.

“One cannot rule out the possibility of the meeting being cancelled at the last minute,” a Nabanna source said.

Unlike her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who used to meet visiting diplomats or delegate the responsibility to senior ministers, Mamata has not shown much eagerness in engaging with foreign envoys.

The Nabanna sources said they received requests from visiting diplomats, seeking appointments with Mamata. But on most occasions, they do not get an audience with the chief minister or any of her senior colleagues, the sources said.

The approach has, however, been different in case of engagements with the US. Then secretary of state Hillary Clinton had come to Calcutta in May 2012 to meet the chief minister.

Although the Hillary-Mamata meeting had gone off well, there was a controversy later over whether they had discussed FDI in retail.

“A statement released by the US consulate had said the issue had been touched upon. But the way the state government reacted, with finance minister Amit Mitra calling up the US consul-general, did not go down well with the American establishment,” said a source close to the consulate.

Although Mamata had met Powell after that, the vibes were “not as warm as before”, the source said.

If Mamata finally meets Stephens, it will send a positive message to the US establishment.

“The chances of a meeting seem brighter this time as the chief minister is unlikely to miss the opportunity to tell the visiting diplomat that she is leaving for Singapore later this week to scout for investment,” a source said.