The United States Senate has unanimously confirmed former Under Secretary for Commerce in the George W. Bush administration Kenneth Juster, who played a key role in developing India-US relations, the high point of which was the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, as the ambassador to New Delhi.
While many of President Donald Trump’s nominations have hit a bottleneck in the Senate, Juster had a smooth sailing with no opposition – a measure of both his standing with both parties and the importance of India in US foreign policy.
Ambassadors are nominated by the President but their appointment has to be confirmed by the whole Senate after they are vetted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Juster stressed the support for closer US-India ties that spans the otherwise deeply divided political parties in his statement to the Senate panel last month. “The remarkable evolution of US-India relations truly has been a bipartisan undertaking, and has benefited from strong leadership and support in the Congress,” he said.
He added, “I look forward to working with each of you to advance our strategic partnership with India – a relationship that is critical to promoting US national security and economic interests.”
Juster, 62, brings the expertise required to be the pointsperson on the ground in New Delhi for the enhanced global role that Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are seeking for India.
He had an influential role in helping develop policy in international trade, an area that Trump had made into one of the cornerstones of his campaign, as the President’s Deputy Assistant for International Economic Affairs and the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. He was simultaneously a senior staff member of the National Security Council.
Just prior to leaving those positions in June amid speculation about the ambassadorship to India, he was Trump’s representative for the advance work and negotiations for the May summit of the industrialised democracies known as the G7 in Italy.
The New Delhi position has been vacant since January when Richard Verma resigned along with most political appointees of President Barack Obama’s administration.
The appointment of the new envoy follows Trump’s announcement in his Afghanistan strategy speech in August that “another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India”.
Last month, Tillerson expanded on Trump’s statement by calling for India to be an anchor of the comity of democratic nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
As Commerce Under Secretary, Juster founded and chaired the US-India High Technology Cooperation Group, and played an important role in developing the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) initiative between the two countries.
The NSSP laid the foundation for increased civilian nuclear and space cooperation, and high-technology trade and expanded dialogue on missile defence.
For these contributions to boosting ties to India, the US-India Business Council honoured him in 2004 with the Blackwill Award.
Between leaving the Bush administration in 2005 and joining the Trump administration, Juster served as the executive vice president of the technology company Salesforce.com and managing director at the global investment firm Walter Pincus.
Juster is a graduate of Harvard University, from which he also obtained a law degree, and has practiced law.
He has served as the chairman of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and as a vice chairman of the Asia Foundation.
Westinghouse is one of the two US companies selected for building nuclear power reactors in India following the 2008 India-United States Civil Nuclear Agreement. Its Indian partner has been the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
The now missed deadline for the deal was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former US President Barack Obama in 2016. A confident India had also allotted a site for a 2,500 MW nuclear power station in Gujarat and identified locations for 6 units in Andhra Pradesh.