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Obama considering appointing envoy to India: NYT

December 23, 2008 16:13 IST
An Obama transition team official has said that the incoming President is considering a proposal to appoint a special envoy to India, a media report said on Tuesday.

A transition official has confirmed that Obama's foreign policy advisers are discussing the possibility of appointing a special envoy to India, the New York Times said. But the paper quoted another transition official as dismising as "speculation" reports that former President Bill Clinton was being considered for appointment as a special envoy to deal with the Kashmir issue.

Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama have not settled on specific envoys or missions, although diplomat Dennis Ross's name has been mentioned as a possible Middle East envoy, as have those of Holbrooke and Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, the Times said.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, Obama's choice for Secretary of State, is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis, it said.

Clinton is recruiting Jacob J Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, the Times said, citing people close to the Obama transition team. Lew's focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to diplomatic corps. Lew and James B Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Hillary's chief lieutenants.

The incoming administration is also likely to name several envoys, the Times said quoting officials, thus reviving a practice of the Clinton administration, when Richard C Holbrooke, Dennis Ross and and other diplomats played a central role in mediating disputes in the Balkans and the Middle East. Nominations of deputy secretaries, the Times said, would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

As Clinton puts together her senior team, officials were quoted as saying, she is also trying to carve out a bigger role for the State Department in economic affairs, where the Treasury has dominated during the Bush years. She has sought advice from Laura D'Andrea Tyson, an economist who headed Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, the paper said.

The steps seem intended to strengthen the role of diplomacy after a long stretch, particularly under Secretary of State Colin L Powell, in which the Pentagon, the vice president's office and even the intelligence agencies held considerable sway over American foreign policy, it said.

Given Hillary Clinton's prominence, expanding the department's portfolio, however, could bring a conflict with other powerful cabinet members, it noted.      

An official was quoted as saying that Hillary was being supported in her push for more resources by Defense Secretary Robert M Gates and Obama's incoming national security adviser, Gen James L Jones Jr.    

For years, the paper said, some Pentagon officials have complained that jobs like the economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq have been added to the military's burden when they could have been handled by a robust Foreign Service.

"The Pentagon would like to turn functionality over to civilian resources, but the resources are not there," the official said."We're looking to have a State Department that has what it needs."

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