William S Cohen, former defence secretary in the Clinton administration and a three-term Republican United States Senator and currently the chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group and a member of the board of directors of the US-India Business Council, has applauded the appointment of Nirupama Rao as the new ambassador to the US.
It comes as a propitious time when there's a sense that the US-India relationship is adrift, he has said.
In an interview with rediff.com, after he formally introduced Rao at the reception hosted by the USIBC, Cohen declared, "She comes at a critical time."
He had chaired a closed-door roundtable meeting with Rao and the USIBC board of directors before the reception.
"The relationship in the last 10 years has gotten very strong, but there is also a sense of drifting in terms of what's going on in India, and of course, what's going on here too," he said.
Cohen, considered one of the most influential players in Washington, DC in foreign policy and security matters, predicted, "I believe her appointment is crucial to help put it back on track."
Emphasising that he's confident that Rao would be catalytic in jump-starting the relationship and giving it that oomph that seems to be missing in the past few months, he said, "She comes with enormous experience and so she understands our country, as well as others, having served in Latin America, in Russia, in China, in Sri Lanka, everywhere, and then of course, being one of the most effective foreign secretaries."
"She's a global person and she's very familiar with all of the key players in the administration, Congress, as well as business and industry. So, she's going to be very important to strengthening the relationship," he said.
Cohen reiterated that having an experienced diplomat in the calibre of Rao at the present time was imperative "because we are both going through some challenging times, politically."
He also bemoaned the fact that the India-US civilian nuclear deal was in limbo in the wake of the Parliament passing the nuclear liability law, which US industries and even Indian companies seeking to participate in the nuclear power industry find an anathema.
Cohen acknowledged that "we have raised that issue and we will continue to raise the issue," and added, "I'd like to say that we were the ones who helped carry the heavy water," in getting the deal pushed through both the House and the Senate in the US Congress and then at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
"So, that's been something we are disappointed with and we are hoping that we can correct that in terms of regulatory language that would allow US companies to engage and participate in," he said.
Cohen said the USIBC's board meeting with Rao, which preceded the reception "was very good and we raised these issues with her."
And being the quintessential diplomat that she is, he noted, "She was very scrupulous in taking notes. She is a very good note-taker. That's her training as a diplomat."
"So, we are looking forward to a very good and productive relationship with India as a result on her being appointed here," Cohen said.
In her remarks during the reception, Rao acknowledged that "like in any expanding relationship, there will always be transactional issues to address between the two sides."
Without being specific and referring to the nuclear deal or any other issue, she declared, "They're there, and they will be resolved in my view."
"But we need to keep in focus the larger picture of our relationship, which is positive, which is progressive, and which is mutually beneficial," she argued.
Ron Somers, president of USIBC, told rediff.com, "Obviously, she's happy to be here and it's going to be a warm and fruitful and productive relationship."
"I mean, she's clearly aware of all the issues because she's been piloting the US-India strategic partnership. So now, we look forward to working with her on commercial issues and her presence here is going to enrich the whole relationship," he said.
Echoing Cohen's sentiments, Somers said, "We are very fortunate in having her here at this time."
He concurred that "she's very familiar with all the players in DC and so that's going to be of immense help."
"And I imagine her access is going to be extraordinary and that's important. And so, we are very blessed," Somers added.