Eric Garcetti (File photo)
WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden‘s nominee to be ambassador to New Delhi Eric Garcetti trod cautiously on two sensitive issues at a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, pledging to be respectful in raising human rights issues and implicitly suggesting that Washington, more immediately, could give India a pass on sanctions over its acquisition of a missile defense system from Russia before weaning it away from its Moscow orientation in arms purchase.
“I don’t want to prejudge the Secretary (of State)’s decision about sanctions or a waiver. I do fully support the law of the land, the implementation of CAATSA as law here and part of that is the waiver provision,” Garcetti told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a two-hour long hearing, asserting that if confirmed, he would advocate the continued diversification of India’s weapons system, and the threats to US own weapons systems due to India’s Russia orientation.
Garcetti also promised to raise human rights issues as a “core piece” of his engagement, while indirectly acknowledging US’ own sketchy record on the matter. “There’s no question that the US-India relationship should be underpinned by our common commitment to democracy, human rights and to civil society…If confirmed, I will actively raise these issues. I’ll raise them with humility. It’s a two-way street on these, but I intend to engage directly with civil society,” he said.
“There are groups that are actively fighting for the human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement from me. We know that democracies are complicated and we can look at our own and at India’s, but it’s a cornerstone of our shared values,” he added.
Echoing the broad consensus in Washington now, Garcetti also told the committee that “India is situated in a tough neighborhood,” and if confirmed, he would extend efforts to strengthen India’s capacity to secure its border, defend its sovereignty, counter-terrorism, and deter aggression.
“Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,” he said, adding that he would seek to advance a shared vision of a “ free and open Indo Pacific region.”
In a preface to the hearing, the departing Mayor of Los Angeles, America’s second largest city, recalled that in the year he graduated from college (Columbia University, 1992) after studying Hindi and Indian cultural and religious history, relations between Washington and New Delhi languished in the shadow of Cold War mistrust. With annual trade at a paltry USD 2 billion (close to $ 150 billion now), defense exchanges zero and military interoperability non-existent, the very idea of a US-India strategic partnership was mirthful.
“Today, the fundamental nature of that strategic partnership is firmly ingrained in both Washington and New Delhi. Twenty years ago President Biden – then Chairman of this esteemed committee – called for a new and ambitious vision of US-India ties. Thanks to successive administrations — Democratic and Republican — and the bipartisan work of this Congress, that strong new chapter is upon us,” the President’s purported confidante, who was part of Biden’s presidential campaign after offering an early endorsement when Biden was low in the presidential polls, said.
Garcetti shared the hearing stage with two other Biden nominees for ambassador ship: Amy Gutmann for Germany and Donald Armin Blome for Pakistan. Given the gridlock in Washington that had delayed the confirmation hearing for months, it is not clear when his nomination will come up for vote before the committee, which is controlled by Democrats. If and when passed, it moves to the full Senate, which is tied, and if lawmakers vote on party lines, will require vice-president Kamala Harris to cast a tie-breaking vote.