U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit will usher in a “new era in India-U.S. partnership,” the newly appointed American Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, has said.
In his first public statement after presenting his credentials last Friday, Mr. Verma said he was very proud to be the first American of Indian origin to represent the U.S. in India, and his appointment came at a “defining time” in relations.
Mr. Verma fills the post of Ambassador eight months after the former Ambassador Nancy Powell left under a cloud over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
The incident in December 2013 had seen a virtual shutdown in relations between the two countries, as India took several diplomatic measures, including downsizing security arrangements and regulating the embassy’s club and school activities.
Mr. Verma said President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would try and address the logjam in the nuclear deal during the visit of the former next week. Mr. Verma had helped push the nuclear agreement through the U.S. Congress as the National Security and Foreign Policy Adviser to Senate majority leader Harry Reid during 2002-07.
“We continue to be hopeful of implementing the civil nuclear agreement to fulfil the PM’s goal of providing electricity to all Indians by 2020,” he said speaking at an event organised by the think tank Brookings India here to an audience, which included foreign policy analysts and diplomats.
On Indo-U.S. ties, Mr. Verma said: “We will have our differences and setbacks. Good friends always do. It is important to keep lines of communication open and not lose sight of the big picture and the democratic values we share.”
Hype and promise
Ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit, Mr. Verma acknowledged criticism that India and the U.S. shared a close relationship but their ties “don’t live up to its hype and promise.”
He said the last decade of progress had, however, “pointed to a much better future.”
He listed progress in defence ties, with U.S. defence sales to India topping $10 billion, and bilateral trade that had grown five-fold to $100 billion in the past decade. “We believe there is no reason it can’t grow another five-fold to $500 billion by 2020.”
Mr. Verma outlined some of the fields where progress was expected during the U.S. President’s January 25-28 visit — defence co-production deals under the DTTI (Defence Trade and Technological Initiative), renewable energy deals under PACE (Partnership to Advance Clean Energy), and a commitment to cut India’s carbon emissions by 25 per cent from the 2005 levels.
Mr. Verma also spoke about his own background, and said it was a proud moment for his family, particularly his parents, who had emigrated from Punjab in the 1960s.
Pointing to the significance of Martin Luther King as an American hero who had been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Verma said Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama had shared an “iconic moment” at the civil rights leader’s memorial in Washington in September last year.