US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell on Thursday headed back to her country after an eventful stint here. She will be replaced temporarily early next month by Kathleen Stephens, a career diplomat.
Stephens will serve as the charge until a new permanent ambassador is nominated and confirmed by the US Senate. President Barack Obama has not yet nominated anyone for this important diplomatic posting.
A career foreign service officer, Stephens is expected to arrive in New Delhi early June. She was US ambassador to South Korea from 2008 to 2011 and previously served in senior positions in Washington, Asia and Europe.
Powell, 67, who assumed charge as US Ambassador here in April, 2012, had announced ending of her tenure in India in March this year.
Normally, an ambassador's return would not be much of news, but analysts have linked Powell's abrupt March announcement of retirement after only two years in the job to her perceived failure to read the writing on the wall.
Powell is apparently blamed for failing to contain the Devyani Khobragade affair and reaching out too late to Prime Minister-designate Modi following his emergence on the national scene even as America's European partners were making overtures to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
Washington's renewed invitation to Modi on Tuesday had come in a congratulatory message from Secretary of State John Kerry following BJP's "resounding victory in India's historic national election".
Obama's invitation to Modi in a congratulatory call last Friday had finally ended Washington's boycott of the BJP leader, whose US visa was revoked in 2005 in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Neither Kerry nor state department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday had made any reference to the visa flap that had threatened to derail what Obama has famously described as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century".
Psaki had announced matter-of-factly that Powell will depart New Delhi "with a deep appreciation of the Administration and the State Department for her outstanding work as ambassador to India".
"Under her guidance, we continued our strategic partnership across a number of important areas, such as trade, defence, space, and education," Psaki had said without offering an explanation why Powell could not wait until the formation of the Modi government.
Psaki had added Stephens "will arrive in Delhi in early June and looks forward to working closely with the new Government of India on a range of issues".