US: Trade, N-deal dominate Verma’s confirmation

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Dec 03, 2014 11:50 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; he is their youngest.

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. Unlike some other political appointees, added another.

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, once he gets to India.

“It makes no sense to produce some of the greatest ingenuity (sic) in the world if at the end of the day other countries with impunity will take your ingenuity and use it without recognizing the intellectual property rights that created it,” said Menendez.

“You have my commitment to make this the top tier issue,” Verma assured Menendez.

Republican senator John Risch raised civil nuclear deal, which has yet to be operationalized several years since 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.

“Frankly, I m not sure it could have been done without him.”

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 to, which Verma tackled with what seemed to be well-rehearsed answers, from the how-to manual on India-US relations.

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