Is Kushner the new India czar for Trump administration?
Jared Kushner, who has been US president Donald Trump’s go-to-man on West Asia, Saudi Arabia, immigration and, for critics, secretary of everything, is scheduled to make his first major appearance at an Indian event Thursday amidst talk he could be the new champion for the relationship.
Kushner will be a key speakers at the annual summit of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), along with House of the Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency, and Secretaries of Commerce and Energy Wilbur Ross and Rick Perry, respectively.
“Our objective was to gather the most powerful people from (Washington) DC, from every branch to discuss the potential of the India-US relationship,” USISPF president Mukesh Agh said in an interview. “When we looked at the House, the speaker was the obvious choice and when we looked at the White House, choices were either the president or Jared Kushner and because the president did not work out for multiple reasons, it was Kushner.”
Kushner has had little, or nothing, to do with the bilateral relationship with India so far. His wife and the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka Trump has been a champion though. She was sent by Trump to represent the United States and him at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India in 2017.
And she recently made headlines for calling India a “critical ally” in a White House video summary of her father’s meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Osaka G-20 summit.
Kushner has been focussed on West Asia peace, perhaps the US president’s most ambitious foreign policy initiative yet, and was also involved in the China discussions initially. He was instrumental in forging the replacement of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement with the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and has been tasked with revamping the immigration system.
In the Trump White House and administration, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is generally seen to be in-charge of the relationship with China — which is not encouraging given he is is a trade hawk. Vice-President Mike Pence leads the initiative on Latin America, and Kushner has spearheaded the thinking on West Asia and plenty of other things, that once earned him the sobriquet of “the secretary of everything”.
India has felt un-represented since the departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis from the administration in November 2018. In the nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Mattis had emerged as most forceful supporter of ties with India at the highest level of the Trump administration.
Mattis renamed a major US military command as the Indo-Pacific Command to reflect the growing proximity with India and lobbied US lawmakers to grant India a waiver from Russia sanctions to allow India to wean itself off its historically main arms supplier as it pivots to the United States.
Mattis’s exit last November left a void for India, for a Trump administration principal, which remains unfilled. Until now.
Kushner can be a “champion for every body … the Saudis, for instance,” a close India watcher with insights and access to the thinking of the Trump administration said on background, “why can’t he be one for India?”