Sees In­dia and US sign­ing NAFTA-like trade agree­ment and NATO-style al­liance for which “there is no need” for a Modi-Trump meet­ing

The Economic Times - - President’s Men - Ishani Dut­tagupta & Di­pan­jan Roy Chaud­hury

The mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion club of Amer­i­canPres­i­den­tDon­aldTrump and Sha­l­abh Ku­mar, founder of the Repub­li­can Hindu Coali­tion, is set to pay div­i­dends to the lat­ter, who’s con­fi­dent of play­ing a crit­i­cal role in the new US ad­min­is­tra­tion. “I can’t an­swer the ques­tion on whether I will be­come the am­bas­sador to In­dia or not just now, but I will be in­volved in one fash­ion or the other with trade, which is my pas­sion,” Ku­mar who is in Delhi for a con­fer­ence, told ET.

While he did not rule out be­ing ap­pointed am­bas­sador, he added that he could even be ap­pointed in a se­nior out­side ad­vi­sory role sim­i­lar to former New York City Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani or former House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, both of whom are known to be close to Pres­i­dent Trump. “Mine could ei­ther be a role in­side or even out­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion, like Gi­u­liani or Gin­grich; they are op­er­at­ing as se­nior ad­vi­sors, but from out­side. (My role) could be ei­ther,” Ku­mar said. Gin­grich and Gi­u­liani, both of whom were very ac­tive dur­ing Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign, are now head­ing a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Greater Amer­ica Al­liance, an ad­vo­cacy group to sup­port the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion from out­side on pol­icy is­sues. Ku­mar added that the ap­point­ments of new US am­bas­sadors could be be­tween 35 and 40 days away in view of the Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. “The Democrats are slow­ing down con­fir­ma­tion of sec­re­taries, deputy sec­re­taries and as­sis­tant sec­re­taries through the fil­i­buster rule in the Se­nate and sim­i­lar slow­down is likely in the process of ap­point­ments of am­bas­sadors to strate­gic coun­tries as well.” How­ever, Ku­mar is al­ready ad­vis­ing the US Pres­i­dent on fu­ture bi­lat­eral ties with In­dia and sees the Indo-US re­la­tion­ship mov­ing ahead un­der Trump. “We are hop­ing that Indo-US ties un­der Pres­i­dent Trump will cul­mi­nate in a bi­lat­eral trade agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries on the lines of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA).” He also be­lieves that a NorthAt­lanticTreatyOr­ga­ni­za­tion (NATO) style strate­gic al­liance be- tween In­dia and Amer­ica is on the cards un­der the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. Fur­ther­ing bi­lat­eral trade will be pri­or­ity for Ku­mar who feels that this could cre­ate jobs in both In­dia as well as USA. Ku­mar, how­ever, doesn’t have a date for a meet­ing be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Pres­i­dent Trump. “If ev­ery­one be­hind the scenes does their jobs well, there is no need for meet­ings be­tween the lead­ers for a bi­lat­eral agree­ment and a de­fence treaty to be­come a re­al­ity.” The Trump team, ac­cord­ing to Ku­mar, is more ac­tion-ori­ented and doesn’t be­lieve in the kind of op­tics that the meet­ings be­tween Barack Obama and PM Modi cre­ated. Yet Modi’s visit to Washington in mid2017 is not ruled out. Sources, who did not wish to be iden­ti­fied, in­di­cated to ET that Ku­mar has more than 50% chance of be­com­ing next US en­voy to In­dia. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is in the midst of mak­ing sev­eral ap­point­ments in­clud­ing key en­voy level ap­point­ments in other world cap­i­tals. Once ap­pointed the en­voys have to be con­firmed by the Se­nate. Be­sides the State De­part­ment is yet to make ap­point­ments at the level of As­sis­tant Sec­re­taries of State for var­i­ous re­gional di­vi­sions in­clud­ing South Asia -- a po­si­tion that will be di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for Indo-US ties.

(For de­tailed pro­file of Sha­l­abh Ku­mar, read­ETMagazi­neonSun­day)

Sha­l­abh Ku­mar is con­fi­dent of play­ing a crit­i­cal role in the Trump ad­mis­tra­tion

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