Guessing game on US envoy

A key economic adviser to President Donald Trump has emerged as the latest name swirling in Washington's diplomatic circles as a candidate for the post of America's ambassador to India, vacant for exactly four months now.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 21.05.17
  •  
Kenneth Juster

New Delhi, May 20: A key economic adviser to President Donald Trump has emerged as the latest name swirling in Washington's diplomatic circles as a candidate for the post of America's ambassador to India, vacant for exactly four months now.

Kenneth Juster, the deputy director of the US National Economic Council (NEC) and an adviser to Trump on international economic affairs, is under consideration for the post in New Delhi, political journalism platform Politico reported yesterday.

Two Indians officials, and one American official, have told this newspaper that they too have heard Juster's name in recent days as a candidate for the post of US ambassador here, but cautioned that such rumours were par for the course in Washington.

Indian American industrialist and Trump funder Shalabh Kumar was viewed as a candidate in the days after Trump took over as President. In March, reports had suggested Trump was considering former state department official and strategic analyst Ashley Tellis for the post.

But Tellis has since questioned Trump's emphasis on withdrawing America's role from global theatres of conflict and tension.

Politico suggested Juster's move out of the NEC was part of a larger tussle over Trump's economic policies, between those keen on pursuing the protectionist agenda the President had announced during his campaign and others like Juster in favour of globalisation.

Juster is known to India. As deputy secretary of commerce under former President George W. Bush, he had in 2003 helped launch the high technology cooperation group between the nations - a mechanism that helped in the exchange of sensitive technology that can be used for civilian and military purposes.

But while India doesn't have a direct say in America's pick, New Delhi has for the past few weeks been gently nudging Washington to speed up its selection.

India is trying to stitch up a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House in late June, and the absence of a full-fledged US ambassador here could impair efforts to maximise diplomatic gains from any such meeting with Trump. Modi and Trump are also expected to meet in July in Hamburg, on the margins of the G20 summit.

The US ambassador's post here has been vacant since January 20, when then envoy Richard Verma - like all political appointees of the previous Barack Obama administration - quit as Trump was sworn in. Career diplomat MaryKay Loss Carlson is serving as the charge d'affaires.

At times, the US has not had a full-time ambassador in New Delhi for over a year - Kenneth Brill served as the charge d'affaires from March 1993, when Thomas Pickering quit, to August 1994, when Frank Wisner took over. George H.W. Bush had appointed Pickering, and he quit after Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential elections.

But unlike Trump, previous US administrations have traditionally left sitting political appointees in their posts as ambassadors for a few weeks or months after taking over, to facilitate ties with key countries during the transition.