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Posted at: Dec 4, 2014, 2:26 AM; last updated: Dec 4, 2014, 2:37 AM (IST)

Obama’s India envoy nominee Verma faces Senate

Verma uniquely suited for job: Senate majority leader

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to whom Richard Rahul Verma served as a foreign policy adviser for four years, said Verma was “uniquely suited to be our Ambassador to India.”
  • Reid introduced Verma to Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing. He said Verma had played a key role in helping pass the US-India civilian nuclear deal in Congress.
  • Verma faced questions from senators on the future of the civilian nuclear deal, the protection of intellectual property rights, counterterrorism cooperation and gender-based violence
Obama’s India envoy nominee Verma faces Senate

Washington: File photo of former state department official Richard Rahul Verma, an Indian-American, with his wife Pinki Verma. President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Verma as the next US Ambassador to India. PTI Photo(PTI9_19_2014_000131B)

Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington
Indian American Richard Rahul Verma, US President Barack Obama’s nominee to serve as the next US Ambassador to India, faced questions from senators on a range of issues, particularly the future of the civilian nuclear deal, the protection of intellectual property rights, counterterrorism cooperation and gender-based violence.

If confirmed, Verma will be the first Indian-American resident of Roosevelt House. Verma faced mostly friendly questioning from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to whom Verma served as a foreign policy adviser for four years, said Verma was “uniquely suited to be our Ambassador to India.”

Reid made a special appearance before the committee to introduce Verma. Praising Verma’s bipartisan approach and his ability to build consensus, Reid said he had played a key role in helping pass the US-India civilian nuclear deal in Congress. “Frankly, I am not sure it could have been done without him,” Reid added. The US Congress passed the nuclear legislation in 2008.

US officials and businesses have become frustrated as the deal has become bogged down by the issue of liability of nuclear suppliers.

Senator James Risch, Idaho Republican, asked Verma what he would do to create a better climate for US companies that want to do business in the nuclear field in India.

Verma acknowledged the “great disappointment” with the logjam over liability issues, but said he was encouraged by the fact that Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed this matter in great detail when they met at the White House in September, and that a contact group has since been formed to press this issue forward.

“It has to come to a resolution,” Verma said, adding, “It isn’t just an American company concern. It is a concern of European companies and others, including Indian companies. So I am hopeful that we can resolve the liability issue in a way that will live up to the promise of the accord that was reached many years ago.”

Responding to a concern raised by Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, about getting India to enforce a stronger intellectual property rights regime, Verma promised that if confirmed he would make this a top-tier issue.

Menendez asked Verma about his strategic vision for the US-India relationship. Verma said the strategic impact of this relationship can be felt “not only in South Asia, but also now in East Asia as we do have a convergence of interests.”

“We have to think much broader than a transactional relationship,” he said, adding, “The trend line in our partnership is very strong.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, wanted to know about the status of the India-Pakistan relationship.

“Where we can help is on the regional connectivity issues, and on the economic and people-to-people issues between the two countries,” Verma said. “On the security issues, the pace the scope and scope of discussions between India and Pakistan are ultimately up to those two countries,” he added.

Shaheen also raised the issue of gender-based violence in the context of the fatal gangrape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in December of 2012.

Verma has close ties with Obama’s inner circle, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Tony Blinken, whom Obama has nominated to serve as the No. 2 diplomat at the State Department. Those ties are expected to come in handy as the U.S. and India seek to reinvigorate their relationship.

“Rich is the son of immigrants. He has an understanding of India,” Reid said. “His ethnic background will be extremely helpful to us in India,” he added.

Verma paid tribute to his family, especially his parents — Kamal and the late Savitri Verma. “They left India — the country they loved — 50 years ago to build a new life here in America, overcoming odds and working so hard,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for their courage, wisdom and countless sacrifices they made on behalf of their children.”

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