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Ambassador Nancy Powell has retired not resigned: US

April 01, 2014 09:48 IST

‘The American envoy has not quit over any tension in ties or over any issue related to meeting Bharatiya Janata Party's PM hopeful Narendra Modi.’

‘There’s no behind-the-scene story here. It's a planned retirement,’ insists the US.  Aziz Haniffa reports 

The United States on Monday angrily denied that its Ambassador to India Nancy Powell had resigned over recent tensions over the Devyani Khobragade controversy and/or over dragging her feet on meeting Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi long after the British and European Union envoys had met with him. 

US Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf bristled at the word resignation, saying, “Retirement. I'm going to use a different word,” and asserted that “it is in no way related to any tension, any recent situations” rubbishing media reports in India. 

“There’s no big behind-the-scenes story here. She has announced -- she announced today (on Sunday) that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama, as has been planned for some time, and she will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May,” Harf said.

The spokeswoman continued, “This is the end of a distinguished 37-year career -- I think after 37 years, she deserves to retire -- that has included postings as US ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal, and India, as well as service in a number of other locations. But I want to dispel any rumours out there that this is related to anything besides her long-planned retirement.”

When reporters persisted and asked if Powell's retirement was a consequence to speculation that she had to go as part of a ‘realignment of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Washington,’ that was likely after the elections, set to start in a week's time in India, Harf reiterated, “There's no big secret to the timing here. All the rumours and speculation are, quite frankly, totally false.”

“I don’t have a further insight into why she chose now, but it’s not at all related to anything happening in the relationship. It doesn’t indicate any realignment of the relationship. This is an incredibly key partnership that will continue under our team there and under whoever is named the next ambassador.”

Asked who would now take charge at Roosevelt House (official residence of the US ambassador) while the elections are ongoing, and as change of government is likely, Harf said, “Well, a couple points. Let me see exactly when she’s heading back and who will be stepping in to fill in her shoes.”

But the spokeswoman argued, “ Obviously, the relationship between the US and India isn’t about one person, while incredibly important. It’s about the whole host of officials that engage, from US Secretary of State Kerry and others at the White House. So the relationship is much broader than our ambassador, although she’s wonderful and amazing, and again, I think deserves a retirement after 37 years.”

However, Harf acknowledged that reporters’ queries as to who would be the US point person in New Delhi with Powell gone was “a fair question,” and said she would provide an answer in due course.

Meanwhile, asked to comment on a Congressional Research Service report that spoke of the controversy over the refusal of a US visa to Modi nearly a decade ago and noted that if Modi becomes the prime minister it's likely that the visa ban would be automatically lifted, Harf said, “First, I don’t have anything new for you on his case, and I’m not sure if that’s true. So let me check on what you’re asking, if that’s true or not -- if heads of state automatically get visas. I don’t think that they do, but let me check.”

But she was visibly irritated when a reporter again asked, “As a diplomat, if he applies -- so do you mean to say that there is already -- the ban on him is still imposed?”

“I did not say -- I said I have nothing for you on his case. Nothing, period, full stop.” Harf snapped.

She said she had not seen the CRS report either.

Asked to characterise the current state of relations between India and US, and what Washington was looking forward to in the event that Modi becomes the PM, Harf said, “It remains to be seen what the outcome of the election will be, so let’s not try and do too much predicting in here.” “Secondly, we have a very close -- very, very close -- relationship with India on a whole host of issues, whether it’s energy, the economy, environmental and security. That has not changed. We look forward to growing that even stronger.

“We will work with whoever the people of India decide should lead their country. We believe it’s a critical partnership, and we’re moving forward with it,” Harf concluded.

Image: Nancy Powell will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May 

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC