The opinion of the United States apparently counts so much at the Ministry of External Affairs that days after Hardeep Puri was appointed India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in April 2009, a senior U.S. diplomat reports a senior MEA official, Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar, telling him that “we should let MEA know if we have any complaints.'' This revelation comes in a U.S. Embassy cable, dated May 1, 2009 (205168: confidential), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Puri assured the same diplomat, Political Counselor Ted Osius, in New Delhi that his “specific brief'' was to seek a “higher degree of convergence'' with the U.S. In this meeting of May 1, 2009, he said he was “still learning about the [UN] reform process” but stresses that his starting point is, “if you want the Security Council to have credibility, then it is better to have India within it.”
He repeated the assurance on “convergence” to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, during an introductory call in New York on June 29.
According to a cable dated July 7, 2009 (215357: confidential) sent under the signature of Ambassador Rice by the U.S. Mission at the UN to the State Department and copied to the New Delhi Embassy, “Puri said the U.S.-India bilateral relationship had benefited from a ‘paradigm shift', and…his clear instructions from New Delhi regarding his posting in New York were to seek a greater degree of convergence with the United States.''
Out of the blue, “in closing, Puri raised the ‘arc of failed states' surrounding India: Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and noted the convergence between U.S. and Indian interests. Specifically, he praised U.S. policy on Sri Lanka.”
This reference to Sri Lanka (months after the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a politico-military force) and Nepal (months after the resignation of ‘Prachanda' as Prime Minister), and indeed the notion of an ‘arc of failed states' in India's neighbourhood, was a completely new formulation that had, and has, no sanction in official Indian foreign policy. As First Secretary/Counsellor (Political) in the Indian High Commission in Colombo in the 1980s, Mr. Puri had played a key role in India-mediated efforts to find a negotiated political settlement to the Tamil question.
It seems that Mr. Puri's appointment as Permanent Representative at the UN in the midst of a general election campaign surprised the Americans, who saw it as a “departure from previous policy which was to defer ambassadorial appointments in the run-up to national elections in India.'' And they were keen to find out more about him.
According to the New Delhi Embassy cable of May 1, 2009, MEA Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar assured “PolCouns'' in a meeting on April 29 that Mr. Puri was “pragmatic'' and “an achiever'' — “noting that we should let MEA know if we have any complaints.''
The Embassy reached out to diplomats from other nations. The cable quoted a senior Japanese diplomat, Naoki Ito, who knew Mr. Puri well, as saying that he “has not been constructive in the past on the major issues that divide developed and developing nations.''
The views of three experienced journalists were also sought. They were complimentary, with one of them characterising Mr. Puri as “a seasoned, mature and widely experienced” diplomat and another noting that while not belonging to “the classical Nehruvian school of foreign policy,” he was “a staunch believer in India's independence of thought in global politics.”
Satisfied with Mr. Puri's credentials, the Embassy cable concluded: “The selection of Puri appears to signal India's desire to appoint someone with whom we can productively work, so that our relationship at the UN more accurately reflects our new bilateral partnership.'' He was very different, the Embassy was pleased to note, from bête noir Nirupam Sen – “a dyed-in-the-wool Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) advocate who made coordination with the Indians in the UN difficult.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks)