Kenneth Ian Juster, President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to India, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Nov. 2, in a unanimous vote from the full Senate floor.
An old India-hand, Juster was nominated by President Trump in September, and is in time to join the ongoing preparations for the Global Economic Summit end of November, being hosted jointly by Washington and New Delhi, where the U.S. delegation will be led by the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
A key player in the making of the U.S. – India civil nuclear agreement back in 2005, Juster will be pushing forward the administration’s ambitious agenda of strengthening the strategic alliance with India particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. This in the midst of a rare asymmetric drumbeat from Washington about India’s emerging global power status and Pakistan’s harboring of terrorists.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared Juster last Friday, just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned from his first visit to India as a cabinet member. While in India, Tillerson reiterated strong warnings to Pakistan on providing safe havens for terrorists, and elevated India’s role vis-a-vis China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea. Washington has also softened its support for China’a One Belt One Road initiative that traces a path through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and is vehemently opposed by India.
Juster replaces the Obama administration’s Ambassador, Richard Verma, who quit in the beginning of January, leaving the post vacant for several months. Following the Sept. 5 nomination, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took almost a month to hold a hearing on Oct. 3. Then took nearly three weeks to send to the full Senate floor Oct. 26.
At the Oct. 3 hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Oct. 3, Senators grilled Juster on a wide range of concerns from the trade imbalance, human rights, bonded labor, sex trafficking and religious liberties, as well as child abduction and infant and maternal mortality.
In his testimony at the Committee hearings, Juster said he looked forward to advancing “our strategic partnership with India – a relationship that is critical to promoting U.S. national security and economic interests.” He also spoke of the contributions of the nearly 4 million Indian-Americans, and stressed that as a democracy, India’s government and its civil society community was already “grappling” with issues like bonded labor and human rights as well as sex trafficking. He said he would find the right “interlocutors” to address American concerns in every area of concern.
Senators from both parties raised issues that continued to bedevil the relationship. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, raised concerns over the “18 million” people allegedly in bonded labor, sex trafficking, and restrictions on non-governmental organizations.
Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was critical of the progress on the civil nuclear agreement on which both countries were “struggling to meet unrealistic expectations.” Corker stressed he was also “frustrated by the slow pace of Indian reforms in the economic sphere,” alleging that American companies continue to face barriers like high tariffs and strict localization policies. He criticized an “unpredictable” foreign investment climate, asserting, “Clearly, the economic playing field is not even.” Corker also contended that space for civil society was shrinking in India and that “as Hindu nationalism rises and international NGOs face undue scrutiny.”
He urged Juster to pursue “an open and candid dialogue” with Indian counterparts. “The time is long overdue for breaking the cycle of expectation and disappointment…”
Juster, 62, spoke in the hearing about his interest in India and noted the “remarkable evolution” of U.S.-India relations. He stressed India’s “constructive” role in Afghanistan, and noted that India was enforcing economic sanctions against Iran and North Korea and that he would need to familiarize himself with what steps New Delhi was taking on new sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia
As Under Secretary of Commerce during the first term of the Bush Administration, Juster worked closely with officials in Washington, D.C. and New Delhi on the civil nuclear agreement, forming the High Technology Cooperation Group; developing an initiative known as the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership which provided a roadmap for expanded cooperation with India, through a series of reciprocal steps, in civil nuclear activities, civil space programs, and high-technology trade, laying the foundation for the historic civil nuclear agreement. Juster was also in the U.S.-India Business Council, Asia Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Advanced Study of India, as well as the Aspen Institute’s U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue and other forums.
A law graduate from Harvard, with a Masters from the Kennedy School of Government, Juster has served in multiple administrations and also in the private sector.