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India a leading power and true friend, says Kenneth Juster new US envoy to India

An experienced bureaucrat in Indian affairs, the 62-year-old was serving as deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs and deputy director of the National Economic Council in the White House.

world Updated: Nov 03, 2017 23:14 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Kenneth Juster,US ambassador to India,Donald Trump
Kenneth Juster in New Delhi in November 2003. (AFP File Photo)

The United States Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Kenneth Ian Juster as the next ambassador to India, filling a position that has been vacant for months after Richard Verma, an Obama appointee, left in the traditional churn accompanying the administration change.

Juster’s unanimous confirmation signals the bipartisan support he enjoys in the upper house. Not all of President Donald Trump’s nominees have found such overwhelming support — David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, was narrowly confirmed by a 52 to 46 vote, and Nikki Haley, the nominee for UN, by 96-4.

“I was proud to support Ken’s nomination to be our country’s representative in India, one of our most important defence partners in the region,” said Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who had introduced Juster, nominee of a Republican president, at his confirmation hearing. Warner is also co-chair of the bipartisan India Caucus in the Senate.

During his confirmation hearing, Juster told senators, “India and the United States share common values and a commitment to democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law... The (Trump) administration views India as a leading power and a true friend, whose influence internationally is important and growing.”

An experienced bureaucrat in Indian affairs, the 62-year-old was serving as deputy assistant to the president for International Economic Affairs and deputy director of the National Economic Council in the White House before his nomination as ambassador to New Delhi and emerged as the leading interlocutor for the administration with India and visiting officials.

He was a key part of the White House faction that had come to be branded the “globalists” or "moderates", led by the president's chief economic advisor Gary Cohn and one that includes Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both advisers to the president.

They stood for continued engagement with the world; for instance, they argued for the United States to remain in the Paris Climate Accord. However, they lost to the “nationalists” group led by former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who pushed for an America First thrust on all Trump policies.

Juster’s confirmation as ambassador, coming within just a few months of his appointment to a key White House position, was said to have been the unintended outcome of that same tussle according to news reports. But India and India-watchers in the United States came to see him as a good choice

“Indians like the US ambassador in Delhi to have high-level connections in the White House, if not to the president directly, and Juster has excellent connections there, specially with Cohn, who hired him,” an observer, who has known the nominee, said at the time of Juster’s appointment.

Ashley Tellis, a leading US expert on India who himself was the subject of speculation of being named ambassador to Delhi, told Hindustan Times earlier that Juster was “an excellent choice”.

A lawyer from Harvard, Juster is an experienced India hand. As deputy secretary of commerce in President George W Bush’s administration — a position roughly the equivalent of minister of state in India — he had launched the High Technology Cooperation Group to promote trade in sensitive dual-use goods and technology.

He served as under secretary of commerce from 2001 to 2005, counsellor (acting) of the state department from 1992 to 1993, and deputy and senior adviser to the deputy secretary of state from 1989 to 1992.

In the private sector, the White House statement about his nomination said Juster had been a partner at the investment firm Warburg Pincus LLC, which remains very bullish on India and scaled up investments there, and was executive vice president at as well as senior partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter.

The new ambassador was also chairman of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and vice chairman of The Asia Foundation. Apart from a law degree, Juster has a master’s degree in public policy from the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College.

First Published: Nov 03, 2017 08:57 IST