New Foreign Secretary will first visit Bhutan

Sujatha Singh, on taking over as Foreign Secretary on Thursday for a two-year term, said her diplomatic priority was in the immediate neighbourhood.

And her first visit will also be in the region. She will shortly travel to Bhutan with which India suffered its first blip in bilateral ties.

“I think India’s immediate priorities will be in our immediate neighbourhood, that’s where our immediate interests lie. And that is where our most intense interactions are. Beyond that it is important to strengthen relations with our strategic partners all over the world,” she told journalists. “So, my immediate priority would be to optimise the resources that we already have and to work with all multiple stakeholders in India’s foreign policy,” she said.

Ms. Singh is the third woman Foreign Secretary after Chokila Iyer and Nirupama Rao.

On dialogue with the new government in Pakistan, she said New Delhi would pick up the threads from where it left with the old regime, but a substantial improvement in ties presupposed an environment free of violence and terror.

India-Pakistan talks were suspended after the Mumbai attacks and resumed in 2011. Two rounds have been held since then but the pace has slackened due to continuing violence-related irritants.

Asked about a video of some of the killers of Captain Saurabh Kalia (killed and his body mutilated when his patrol was ambushed in the run-up to the Kargil clash in 1999) having gone viral whereas Pakistan did not profess to know the cause of his death, Ms. Singh said the issue was repeatedly taken up, starting with Jaswant Singh, Foreign Minister at that time, with his then counterpart Sartaj Aziz (currently again in the core circle of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif).

“If there are some new facts that have come to light, we will assess it and then we will decide how to proceed further in taking this up,” she said.

Ms. Singh sidestepped a question on whether India’s suspension of fuel subsidy to Bhutan on the eve of its general elections was a major factor in the defeat of the ruling party. Wanting to put the past behind, she described the withdrawal of the now-restored subsidy an “unfortunate technical lapse.”

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