US Ambassador: Kenneth Juster likely US ambassador to India

WASHINGTON: Kenneth Juster, who helped transform India-US relations in the crucial early years of the George W Bush administration, is reportedly close to being appointed as the next US ambassador to India. US President Donald Trump, who left on his first foreign trip on Friday, reportedly approved the decision before departing, sources said. Once the paperwork is done, Juster will go in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing.

Juster is currently deputy assistant to the president on international economic affairs, a top position to which he was appointed in February. His mandate has been to coordinate the Trump administration’s international economic policy and “integrate” it with national security and foreign policy. He has also led the preparation for the G-7 summit.

Apart from having the ear of people close to Trump, especially Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council (NEC), Juster is seen as an inspired choice as he knows India well.

Juster’s name was on the list of candidates as first reported by ET on March 29. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the second key appointment for South Asia after Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia in the NEC.

Juster’s nomination should help calm nerves in New Delhi where officials have worried about the slow rate of appointments in the Trump administration. Anxious to move on the bilateral agenda, Indian officials have been waiting to get the ball rolling.

That it might be Juster as ambassador and not a novice should help both sides quicken the pace and make up for lost time. He personally knows Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar since the two negotiated the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership in 2004, an initiative that led to the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal.

Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia in the Obama administration, said Juster’s appointment would be “very good news” for Indo-US relations. “He is a heavyweight who is well respected on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as in the business community,” she told ET.

As undersecretary for commerce in the Bush administration, Juster helped change the dynamic within the US bureaucracy vis-à-vis India from latent hostility to something close to friendship.