John Kerry to have historic talks with Bhutanese PM Tshering Tobgay
WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry will become the first ever American cabinet level official to meet with top Bhutanese leaders when he visits India in the coming days, a US official said Friday.
Kerry will hold talks with Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay from the isolated Himalayan kingdom on Sunday in the northwestern Indian city of Ahmadabad on the sidelines of a trade and investment conference.
While the United States does not have an embassy in Bhutan, the US ambassador to India is accredited to Bhutan as well.
“We certainly enjoy a diplomatic relationship and one which we seek to strengthen and grow,” a senior US State Department officials told reporters on a conference call.
Washington has never had any engagement with Bhutan “higher than an assistant secretary level,” the official said.
“This will certainly be the first cabinet level interaction with the prime minister or any other senior official, including in prior years with the king ... so the secretary will be the first to have that opportunity,” the official said.
Washington and Thimphu have good cooperation, the official said, but Bhutan was looking at ways to “deepen our people-to-people ties or our educational ties.”
The prime minister is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and “is quite keen to be able to provide additional opportunities for Bhutanese to be able to study in the United States.”
Another important area is regional energy cooperation, the official added.
Wedged between China and India, the sparsely-populated “Land of the Thunder Dragon” only got its first television sets in 1999, at a time when less than a quarter of households had electricity.
Thanks to a massive investment in hydropower in the following decade-and-a-half, nearly every household is now hooked up to the electricity grid.
But the radical change in lifestyle has coincided with an equally dramatic transformation of the political system, with the monarchy ceding absolute power and allowing democratic elections in 2008.
With its abundant winding rivers, Bhutan has now set its sights on becoming an energy powerhouse, with most of its electric power already sold to energy-hungry India.
Three hydropower projects have been built in India-Bhutan joint ventures and another three are under construction, with plans for more.