Washington: Richard Rahul Verma, President Barack Obama’s nominee as the next ambassador to India, sailed smoothly through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 2, as senators emphasized the critical importance of the diplomatic post in the 21st century and praised the Indian American nominee’s background and qualifications.
Foreign Relations Committee outgoing chairman Robert Menendez said Verma’s appointment, if approved by the full Senate, would come “at a critical time” for the world’s two largest “liberal democracies.”
Senator John McCain stated that the relationship with India is “maybe the most important” the US has with any country in the world. Verma in his opening remarks pointed out that it is a “defining and historic time” for India-US ties, as President Obama in January will become the first US president to visit India twice while in office and the first president to be in the country during Republic Day celebrations.
Verma, 45, who served as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs under then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton between 2009-2011, received a few tough questions, but those he was tossed, he fielded confidently and without missteps.
Asked by Menendez to comment on the sticky issue of India’s intellectual property rights protections, or lack thereof - addressed in a 2014 Special 301 Report by the US Trade Representative - Verma promised “to make it a top-tier issue with the Indian government” and “part of the regular framework” of discussions.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen raised the issue of the 2012 gang rape in New Delhi of an Indian woman, who subsequently died of her injuries, and other gender-based violence occurring in India. Verma responded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out against violence against women. He also pointed to USAID-sponsored programs for empowering women, such as leadership and skills training and support for technologies, such as mobile devices, that can be deployed by women when they are threatened.
Asked by both Senator Tim Kaine and Shaheen about the sensitive issue of India-Pakistan relations, Verma carefully reiterated the US and India position that security issues, are “up to the two countries” to decide between themselves, but that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s acceptance of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to attend his inauguration was a “breakthrough.”