Ambassador Timothy Roemer says Narayanan's departure could be a setback and certainly presents a challenge for advancing the U.S.-India agenda, as his strong backing of the U.S.-India relationship and ability to break bureaucratic logjams on a broad range of strategic issues
243925 1/15/2010 18:45 10NEWDELHI77 Embassy New Delhi CONFIDENTIAL "VZCZCXRO9865OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPWDE RUEHNE #0077/01 0151845ZNY CCCCC ZZHO 151845Z JAN 10FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9158INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITYRUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 8178RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 1528RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 7174RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 3867RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 2075RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 6637RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITYRHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITYRUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITYRUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITYRUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITYRHMCSUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITYRHMFISS/HQ PACAF HICKAM AFB HI PRIORITYRHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY" "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 000077
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/15/2020 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PINR, IN SUBJECT: (C) NSA NARAYANAN OUT, SUCCESSOR TBD
Classified By: Ambassador Timothy Roemer. Reasons: 1.4(B, D).
1. (C) Summary and Comment: NSA M.K. Narayanan, who has held the post since 2005, confirmed his imminent retirement in a private meeting that Ambassador Roemer sought out on evening of January 15. While Narayanan did not reveal his successor, he asserted that the broad scope of the NSA position will be reduced after his departure, with Home Minister Chidambaram assuming charge on intelligence issues previously under the NSA purview, and former Department of Atomic Energy Director Kakodkar joining PMO to advise on nuclear issues. Narayanan suggested that he had discussed his move with the PM as early as June 2009, and that after decades of government service and five years as NSA, it was time to move on. Without confirming his onward plans, he affirmed that the GoI had asked him to take on the governorship of West Bengal to help the address the state's endemic problems, including Naxalites and terrorism. Narayanan's departure could be a setback and certainly presents a challenge for advancing the U.S.-India agenda, as his strong backing of the U.S.-India relationship and ability to break bureaucratic logjams on a broad range of strategic issues, from CT to civ-nuke to EUM, will be hard to duplicate. All three of his mooted successors -- Special Envoy Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, and former Ambassador to the U.S. Ronen Sen -- are highly accomplished career diplomats well known to the USG. End summary and comment.
ENDING A GOOD, FIVE YEAR RUN AND LONG CAREER
2. (C) The Ambassador met privately with NSA Narayanan January 15 to discuss concerns on Indian civil nuclear cooperation implementation (septel) and rumors of Narayanan's imminent retirement. After a late afternoon phone call, Ambassador Roemer went to the NSA's office at South Block for an evening meeting. The NSA confirmed that he would be retiring soon, without offering a specific date. (Comment: Indian media has speculated that Narayanan will be replaced before India's January 27 Republic Day holiday, a timeline that we find credible. End comment.) Dodging the Ambassador's question on whether he was departing voluntarily, Narayanan remarked that he had a great run in his five years as NSA, and had come out of retirement to take the job. He claimed that he had discussed a possible move with the PM as early as June 2009 and that now was a good time to move on, with India's foreign relations, especially with the United States, at a high point. The 76-year-old NSA also cited the ""brutal"" pace of the NSA job, and mused on his lengthy career as career Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer, noting that few of his compatriots from the 1960s were still alive. He expressed pride that the Indian intelligence service had maintained its integrity throughout the past fifty years, despite many of its foreign counterparts resorting to ""Gestapo"" tactics.
REDUCED NSA POSITION
3. (C) Narayanan declined to comment on who his successor would be, noting that it was the sole decision of PM and Congress Party supremo Sonia Gandhi. He asserted that whomever took the job, it would be a reduced portfolio, with the future NSA no longer retaining dominance on the full range of strategic issues, including defense, space, intelligence, and India's nuclear programs. For instance, Home Minister Chidambaram would be taking over many intelligence issues, while former Director for Atomic Energy Anil Kakodkar would be joining PMO in a new position advising on atomic energy and nuclear security; a new position was also being created in PMO to advise on space issues. Narayanan affirmed nonetheless that the NSA would remain a critical position for the GOI, although some had questioned whether it was a ""fifth wheel"" in government. Asked about
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whether his rivalry with Chidambaram had contributed to his departure, the NSA quipped that the Home Minister at times needed someone ""to check him and put a bit in his mouth.""
4. (C) On future plans, Narayanan noted that Finance Minister Mukherjee had told him the GoI ""needed him"" to accept the governorship of West Bengal, given the longtime Communist party stronghold's many problems. Narayanan would not confirm that he would accept the governorship or if he had sought it, but observed that the state had every imaginable challenge, including border problems, CT issues, Naxalites, and chronic underdevelopment.
Comment: Jumped or Pushed?
5. (C) We found Narayanan's suggestion that he sought to depart at this time somewhat unconvincing, given the NSA's assiduous cultivation of senior USG contacts through the end of 2009. Speculation had run rampant in the press over the past two days that Narayanan was on his way out, either by choice or with an assist. Some pointed to Narayanan's age and the demands of the job to suggest he jumped rather than being pushed. Others pointed to his troubled relationship with Home Minister Chidambaram as reason to believe the move was not entirely voluntary. The relationship between the two men has been contentious since shortly after the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks, when Chidambaram took over the portfolio. This was the view of Congress Party General Secretary, Rahul-mentor and Gandhi family insider Digvijay Singh, who told PolCouns earlier this week that if reports of Narayanan,s exit were true, he saw two reasons behind it: Narayanan,s age; and the turf battle underway between Home Minister Chidambaram and Narayanan over who has primary intelligence and counterterrorism responsibilities. According to Digvijay Singh, the Intelligence Bureau, RAW and the CBI all currently report to the PMO and Narayanan. Chidambaram was bent on consolidating all intelligence, internal security and counterterrorism functions in a single entity that reported to him. Narayanan,s exit or threat to exit may be part of this bureaucratic battle. A leak to the press from Narayanan's office outlining these differences may have marked the final act in this story.
6. (C) Narayanan's possible move to the West Bengal governorship, despite his emphasis on the state's substantial challenges, would be a kick upstairs. Governors in India are appointed by the ruling government in Delhi and have mostly protocol duties, although they can play an important role during times of political instability and government formation when no single party has a comfortable majority in the state legislature. Governors also serve as the eyes and ears of the central government on the politics of the states. West Bengal faces state elections in 2011, in which the long-ruling and weakened Communist Party of India faces a formidable challenge from ascendant and unpredictable Congress Party ally Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress party. When asked by the Ambassador about his party affiliation, Narayanan indicated he ""did not have any baggage or connection,"" a stance which might prove beneficial in West Bengal's volatile political environment.
7. (C) Narayanan,s departure presents a challenge to moving forward swiftly on our agenda in India. Narayanan has been, for the most part, a strong backer of the U.S.-India relationship, served as a key conduit to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi, and was a person who could bang heads within the Indian bureaucracy to move issues of interest to us. Regardless of who his successor will be, there will be an inevitable settling in period. Currently, the three
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leading candidates are former Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, PM's Special Envoy for Climate Change Shyam Saran, and former Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen. While Menon did take the fall for the Prime Minister's politically disastrous July 2009 joint statement at Sharm with Pakistani PM Gilani, he is seen as a loyal and highly experienced diplomat because of his successful ambassadorial stints in China and Pakistan and his role as the Foreign Secretary at a time when India signed the nuclear deal with the U.S. Shyam Saran is also in the running as a former Foreign Secretary and a master of his brief on nonproliferation and the politically tricky climate change account. Sen, while enjoying a good reputation from his stint as Ambassador in Washington, seems to be enjoying his retirement and may not want to take on the tough job of coordinating India's difficult foreign policy interagency process. End Comment.