Image: US President Joe Biden, left, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who will be the US ambassador to India. (File Photo: LA Mayor) - Photo: 2023

US Will Finally Have Envoy in Delhi as India’s Diplomatic Value Rises

By Arul Louis

The writer is a New York-based non-resident senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank. He can be contacted @arulouis.

UNITED NATIONS, 16 March 2023 (IDN) — After an almost two-year delay during which India’s importance rose for US diplomacy, Washington will finally have an envoy in New Delhi with Eric Garcetti’s nomination clearing the Senate with Republican help on March 15.

President Joe Biden nominated Garcetti, a close political ally, in July 2021, but the appointment stalled in the Senate with some Democrats opposing him amid allegations that while he was Los Angeles mayor, he had ignored reports of sexual harassment by a senior aide.

Seven Republican Senators cutting across the partisan divide to support him, offsetting the three Democrats voting against him was a sign of the bipartisan value placed on the diplomatic post.

Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, said, “The United States-India relationship is extremely important and it’s a very good thing we now have an ambassador”.

On March 14, Biden said the Senate action would be an “important vote”, according to a CNN correspondent.

The approval of Garcetti by the highly polarised Senate with bipartisan support also marks a win for Biden, who resolutely stood with Garcetti while some members of his party took a stand against Garcetti in keeping with the party’s usual hardline on matters relating to sexual misconduct.

Garcetti, however, has not been accused personally of any misconduct but only that he ignored allegations against a close subordinate, which he has denied.

While the accusations against Garcetti ricocheted in Washington, important developments were taking place while the ambassadorship sat vacant in New Delhi.

The US was trying to get India off its diplomatic neutrality on the Ukraine conflict while its role was growing within the Quad, the four-nation group of the US, India, Japan and Australia focused on China’s emerging dominance in the Indo-Pacific, and Washington was launching a similar multilateral initiative in the Middle East with India at its core, the I2U2 of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the US. 

The US has also been trying to wean India away from defence and energy purchases from Russia.

And India had assumed the presidency of the fractured G20 group of major industrialised and emerging economies.

Since Kenneth Juster, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, quit in January 2021 when the Biden administration came into office, there has been a high turnover of five career diplomats temporarily heading the New Delhi embassy as charge d’affaires.

Garcetti overcame several hurdles to get the Senate nod required for all senior diplomatic and other government appointments.

Initially, two Republicans put a hold on his nomination making the approval process more convoluted because of the allegations against Garcetti.

Later, some Democrats joined in opposing the nomination threatening his chances because Biden’s party and its three independent backers have only a one-vote lead in the Senate.

The nomination lapsed last month when the Congress session ended without a vote and Biden quickly revived it in January by renominating him.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which first has to vet the nomination, cleared Garcetti, again with the help of seven Republicans when two Democrats on the panel voted against him.

Garcetti, who ended his term as the mayor of Los Angeles in December is a former Naval Reserve Intelligence Officer who had done stints with the Defence Intelligence Agency and the Navy’s Pacific command, which gives him an insight into the Indo-Pacific region.

He said that his interest in India had been sparked by a visit to the country in 1990 as a guest of the then-ambassador Bill Clark, whose son was his college roommate, and that he had studied Hindi and Urdu.

At his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2021, Garcetti said, “Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India”.

As ambassador, he said that he would “double-down on our efforts to strengthen India’s capacity to secure its borders, defend its sovereignty, and deter aggression”—an obvious reference to China.

“India is situated in a tough neighbourhood,” he added.

He said that he would strengthen security ties “through information sharing, counterterrorism coordination, joint freedom of navigation patrols and military exercises, which I have participated in as a naval officer alongside my Indian counterparts, and sales of our best defence technologies in order to realise the full potential of our Major Defence Partnership”.

But there is also a point of friction in ties with India: the human rights issues as perceived by some in the US, which is a touchy issue for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

At that hearing, he said, “Respect for human rights and strong democratic institutions are key elements of our strategic partnership and values enshrined in our constitutions, and if confirmed, I will engage closely and regularly with the Indian government on these issues”.

“Groups that are actively fighting for human rights,” he said, “will get direct engagement from me”.

Of the 4 million Indian American community, he said they embodied “the bedrock of our partnership”.

As if on cue, after Garcetti’s nomination was approved, the Senate voted to confirm the appointment of an Indian American, Ravi Chaudhary, as the assistant secretary of the Air Force, by a largely bipartisan vote of 65 to 29.

Chaudhary, whose portfolio includes installations, environment and energy worldwide, is a retired Air Force pilot who flew the giant C-17 Globemaster transport planes.

He later worked for the Federal Aviation Administration dealing wing commercial space transportation. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: US President Joe Biden, left, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who will be the US ambassador to India. (File Photo: LA Mayor)

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