More than a year-and-a-half since it assumed office, the Obama Administration has finally appointed its full complement of officials dealing with India, in time to plan for the US President’s visit to India in November this year.
There had been various outstanding vacancies when it came to India hands because the Administration had seemingly been focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But some recent appointments indicate a trend towards making India a priority again. Among the new appointees is Michael Newbill, who will take over as Director for South Asia in the National Security Council. Newbill is currently the Chief of Political and Economic Affairs at the American Consulate in Mumbai.
Reporting the spate of appointments in Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable, Josh Rogin commented, “Once Newbill is in place, the India policy team at the NSC and State will be fully staffed for the first time in this administration.”
Newbill has been in India since 2007 and was actually supposed to meet a friend at Leopold Café in Mumbai on 26/11 but his friend called in sick. Newbill was an important liaison between Indian and US law enforcement agencies.
The other recent appointees include Deputy Assistant Director for South Asia in the State Department, Alyssa Ayres. Ayres, who will concentrate on India, was with the Washington-based international strategic advisory firm McLarty Associates. A source, with knowledge of the change in direction of the Administration vis-à-vis India said, “There had been India specialists in the administration but in the non-proliferation bureau. This signals the intention to de-emphasise non-proliferation and nuclear issues and emphasise diplomatic issues.”
In fact, the opinion in Washington has been that the Obama Administration had “rested on the laurels” of the preceding Bush Administration which had set a new standard for relations with India. Plus, there was also the sense that India had received “a pretty good deal” when it came to the nuclear deal and, therefore, a new initiative was not required.