US envoy-designate talks trade, N-deal

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Dec 03, 2014 23:58 IST

Market access in India, intellectual property rights and the civil nuclear deal dominated US ambassador-designate Richard Rahul Verma’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Senators sought, and obtained mostly, Verma’s commitment to pursue these issues with the Indian government once he takes charge in New Delhi, if and when confirmed. He will be, in all likelihood, making him the first Indian American ambassador to India. Verma’s parents came to the US from Punjab in the 60s.

A long-term congressional aide and a familiar figure on Capitol Hill as secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s top legislative affairs sherpa, he was not expected to get roughed up. And he didn’t. “He hit the ball out of the park,” gushed a congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Issues raised with the ambassador-designate, said congressional aides, were mostly those that have caused the maximum drag on India-US relations — trade and the nuclear deal.

Democratic senator Bob Menendez wanted a commitment from Verma that he would pursue IPR concerns, specially regarding pharmaceuticals. “You have my commitment to make this the top tier issue,” Verma assured Menendez.

Republican senator John Risch raised civil nuclear deal, which is yet to be operationalised several years after it was announced and signed by the two countries.

Verma was then with senate majority leader Harry Reid, who gave his former aide the customary introduction at the hearing, noting the role he played in legislating the nuclear deal. Verma assured Senator Risch that he understands the issue well and knows there has been “great disappointment” over the deal, but he has felt encouraged by recent developments.

He mentioned the contact group announced by the two countries after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings with President Barack Obama last September. Counter-terrorism, Pakistan and other issues came up too, which Verma tackled with what seemed to be well-rehearsed answers.

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