President Trump has nominated Kenneth Juster, a top White House official with deep India experience, to serve as U.S. ambassador to India. The post has been vacant since January after Ambassador Richard R. Verma stepped down as chief of the U.S. mission in New Delhi following Trump’s inauguration. Juster’s nomination is a welcome move by President Trump, whose foreign policy thus far has generated uncertainty among U.S. allies and within the broader international community.
Juster is considered a longtime and well-experienced India hand, with a wealth of relevant private sector and government experience. He currently serves as President Trump’s senior international economic advisor on the White House’s National Economic Council. He previously served as Under Secretary of Commerce from 2001-2005 where he chaired the U.S.-India High Technology Cooperation Group, and effectively laid the groundwork for the civilian nuclear cooperation deal between the two countries. The landmark accord ultimately became the centerpiece of the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Juster also served in senior roles at the State Department during the presidential administration of the elder George Bush.
In the private sector, Juster was a partner at the elite investment firm Warburg Pincus LLC and senior partner at the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP. He has also served as Executive Vice President of Salesforce.com and Vice Chairman of The Asia Foundation. Juster earned joint public policy and law degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School.
John Bellinger III, an eminent Washington D.C.-based attorney who served in the Bush Administration and at Arnold & Porter with Juster agreed that, “Ken is a good pick to be Ambassador to India. He is a very smart and politically savvy lawyer with decades of experience working in the private sector and inside the U.S. Government.” Most importantly, Bellinger observes, “he is also well-known to the Indian government.”
This will undoubtedly be one of the most valuable assets Juster brings to New Delhi if confirmed. In the short time since becoming president, Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has sown confusion in capitals across the world. Although the impact of Trump’s election on U.S.-India ties seems to be limited so far, officials in New Delhi are likely breathing a sigh of relief at Juster’s nomination and the breadth of his experience underlying it.
Prior to Juster’s nomination earlier this month, speculation was ripe over who Trump would choose to fill the coveted diplomatic post in New Delhi. A host of individuals were allegedly under consideration by White House. They included Dr. Ashley Tellis, an academic based at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace who is widely considered to be the top India expert in the country; Shalabh “Shali” Kumar, an Indian-American donor to President Trump who organized a political rally for Hindu Americans for Trump in New Jersey during the campaign last year; and finally Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Co-Chair of the House Caucus on India and Indian-Americans who met with President-elect Trump during the transition period last year to discuss various issues.
The U.S. ambassador to India has historically played a significant role in managing the bilateral relationship, navigating it through otherwise complex issues and further strengthening the strategic partnership in ways that align and advance the interests of both countries. Previous U.S. ambassadors to India have included such luminaries as John Kenneth Gailbraith, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), diplomatic titans Thomas R. Pickering and Frank G. Wisner, Robert Blackwill and Congressman Timothy Roemer (D-IN). Fittingly, both Gailbraith and Moynihan were professors of Juster’s during his time as an undergraduate at Harvard College.
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