Obama names NRI Richard Verma as envoy to India

richard rahul vermaAhead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, President Barack Obama has nominated Richard Rahul Verma as the new ambassador to India, the first Indian American to be named to the New Delhi post.

Verma, a former key aide to then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, will be the second Indian American to be put in charge of a job involving India.

Current Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal, hailing from Modi’s home state of Gujarat became the first Indian American to head the South Asia bureau last November.

The New Delhi post has been vacant since the previous ambassador Nancy Powell quit in May after India-US ties hit a low after a major diplomatic spat over the December arrest and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.

However, there is no chance of Verma being confirmed before the Modi visit as the Senate left town Thursday with lawmakers getting into campaign mode for the Nov 4 Congressional elections.

Any confirmation hearing for Verma is likely to be scheduled only after the elections.

Currently, he is a senior counsellor at the Steptoe & Johnson law firm and the Albright Stonebridge Group, a business advisory company led by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, according to a White House announcement.

Verma is also a Senior National Security Fellow at the Centre for American Progress and serves on the boards of Human Rights First, the Clinton Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute.

A Lehigh University graduate who received a JD from American University, and an LL.M from Georgetown University Law Centre, Verma served as assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the State Department from 2009 to 2011 under Hillary Clinton.

He was also senior national security advisor, counsel and foreign policy advisor to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 2002 to 2007, and an associate at Steptoe & Johnson from 1998 to 2002.

Verma served on active duty in the US Air Force from 1994 to 1998 and received, among other decorations, the Meritorious Service Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal.

Earlier in his career, Verma was a Field Representative for the National Democratic Institute in Eastern Europe and worked in the House of Representatives for Congressman John P. Murtha.

Verma served on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism in 2008 and has been a member of the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board.

Applauding Verma’s nomination, the only Indian American serving in US Congress, Ami Bera said “at a critical time for growing US-India relations,” Verma, an experienced professional, ?will make an outstanding ambassador at such an important moment”.

“I have worked with him personally and trust in both his capabilities and his judgment. Most importantly, I know he understands the importance of strengthening the US-India partnership,” he said.

Joe Crowley, Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said: “With over two decades of senior foreign policy experience, Rich Verma is a skilled and accomplished professional who will make an excellent ambassador to India.”

“He is committed to building the US-India relationship, has access to the highest levels of the White House, and is exactly who we need at the helm as we look to further strengthen US-India relations.”