WASHINGTON, Mar. 3: With the Trump administration's state department in disarray amid reports of being downgraded and downsized, India's foreign secretary S.Jaishankar homed into the White House National Security Council on Wednesday to seek a continuation of ever-improving ties with Washington amid episodic wrinkles.
The high-ranking Indian official, considered one of the architects of burgeoning US-India ties, met with Trump's new National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster even as the new dispensation in Washington is struggling to find its feet. Among his remits is laying the groundwork for the first personal engagement between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi that could take place as early as May by way of a visit, ahead of a possible meeting already on the diplomatic calendar on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.
Ironing out matters relating to movement of professionals, visa issues, trade barriers, and a defense cooperation agenda, including on the manufacturing front that has already been agreed to by the previous dispensation, are part of the discussions with the new players in Washington, with some familiar faces providing an element of continuity. Jaishankar also met House Speaker Paul Ryan in the familiar Indian outreach that goes beyond the executive to the Congress, where there is bipartisan support for strong ties with India.
The safety of Indian immigrants and working professionals in the U.S following the killing of an engineer from Hyderabad in an apparent hate crime in Kansas featured high in the list of Jaishankar's talking points going by the statement from Ryan on the meeting, absent a readout from the Indian side. Expressing condolences over the ''senseless murder'' of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Ryan said ''our peoples must stand together,'' while calling for building on what he described as a ''critical partnership... by discussing ways to enhance our economic and defense cooperation.''
While the Trump administration is getting its pieces together in the State Department, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson still does not have a # 2, Jaishankar is meeting over working lunch at noon and dinner at 7 p.m with Foggy Bottom's # 3, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.
There is a growing perception in the U.S capital and the diplomatic circuit that the State Department, which has been the principal foreign policy arm of the U.S government over decades, is getting a short shrift from President Trump, with major policy decisions now concentrated with the White House team comprising Trump's strategic advisor Steve Bannon and the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In fact, such is the sidelining of the State Department that it has not even had its regular press briefing under the new dispensation (it is still searching for an official spokesman) amid reports of large-scale disenchantment among the civil service staff. The President has made known his disdain for the traditional structure and processes, suggesting that he is not even going to fill many of the vacancies in what he sees as a bloated bureaucracy that accomplished little and cost money.
India, and indeed many countries across the world are having to deal with the new reality of a powerful White House and an emasculated State Department, and to that extent, Jaishankar's experience in Washington, where he was the ambassador before being recalled to New Delhi to become foreign secretary, is seen as an advantage.(TOI)
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