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PM Modi gears up for Obama meet, but US yet to name ambassador

PM Modi gears up for Obama meet, but US yet to name ambassador

New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to the US for his first summit meeting later this month, one of the more glaring absences is that of a US ambassador to India.

The US is expected to name an ambassador to India in the coming days but that does not actually mean the new envoy will be here anytime soon. The political gridlock in Washington DC has meant that there is a huge backlog of 65 ambassadorial posts across the world that are yet to be filled, because the US Senate has not been able to confirm them.

There have been several names floating around as possible envoys to India. The most high profile name in circulation for the job is Ashton Carter, who recently quit the Obama administration as deputy secretary for defence. Carter is credited with trying to effect the most comprehensive reboot of the defence relationship by working out, with former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, a programme for co-production and co-development of defence equipment in India.

The other person in the running is Richard Verma, former assistant secretary in the state department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Having quit the government in 2011, he now runs the India and South Asia practice of Washington law firm Albright Stonebridge Group. Verma has been mentioned more in recent days after another possible candidate Fred Hochberg's name was dropped. Rajiv Shah, head of USAID, and reportedly close to Barack Obama, has already been touted as a possible successor.

Political nominations are having a hard time getting confirmed by the Senate, while only a few career diplomats are getting through. But even for them, the going on Capitol Hill is hard. The ambassador to Russia was named just weeks ago. Turkey has been given an interim ambassador just like India. Kathleen Stephens was named interim ambassador to India after Nancy Powell quit in May.

Powell was compelled to resign after several months of stormy ties with New Delhi. While the ostensible reason for her precipitate departure appeared to be the row over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, there was also a feeling in Washington that she had failed to read the tea leaves about the possible victory of Narendra Modi in the May elections.

David Ignatius, columnist in the Washington Post, wrote last week, "Let's say it plainly: This is how nations lose their power and influence, when they are unable to agree even on basic matters such as diplomatic representation. The decision-making system breaks down, and the public is too bored or disunited to take action. Sadly, that's a snapshot of the United States in 2014."

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