Kenneth I Juster, a top aide of US President Donald Trump, is set to be America’s new ambassador to India, the White House said last week. The 62-year-old Juster, who is the Deputy Assistant for International Economic Affairs, and Deputy Director of his National Economic Council, would replace Indian American Richard Verma — who stepped down from the post Jan. 21, at the behest of the White House, which dismissed several Obama appointees — if nominated and confirmed by the Senate.
After five months without a U.S. number one in India, Donald Trump has finally chosen the next ambassador to the subcontinent. Kenneth Juster, who serves as a top deputy at the National Economic Council in Trump’s White House, will likely exert a steadying influence on U.S.-India relations if his nomination goes forward as expected.
Juster is a long-time India hand – he chaired the U.S.-India High Technology Cooperation Group and helped spearhead a major new bilateral initiative under the George W. Bush administration – and with his extensive diplomatic experience, he differs from some of Trump’s other ambassadorial picks such as Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor, or Callista Gingrich, his envoy to the Vatican.
“He’s considered an experienced hand with a good relationship in the White House and other agencies that will make him an effective ambassador,” said Ronak D. Desai, a U.S.-India relations expert at Harvard University and fellow at New America.
If Juster is tapped for the post, he’ll have to navigate some significant political minefields, in large part thanks to his former boss in the Oval Office. One key sticking point is climate change. Trump angered the entire world when he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, and went out of his way to jab India in the process.
Some blame the attacks on Indian-Americans on the racially-charged climate Trump churned up on the campaign trail – and he’s been silent on the attacks ever since despite growing concerns among Indians and Indian-Americans.
“Given the very real fears of Indian-Americans and the crucial role of the Indian diaspora in U.S.-India relations, Modi can’t afford not to bring up this matter,” wrote the Wilson Center’s Michael Kugelman.
“Ken Juster’s move to Indian Ambassador is because he is extremely qualified for the position,” White House deputy spokesperson Lindsay Walters reportedly told the media about the news which was first reported by The Washington Post. The Post reported that Juster was still undergoing the vetting process.
“Ken has a strong and positive relationship with everyone in the White House, including the president,” Walters said. The move has been welcomed by widely respected Ashley Tellis, the top India expert in the U.S.
“Ken knows India well and actually was deeply involved in successful bilateral negotiations between the two countries. The Indians will welcome him enthusiastically. He is a known quantity,” Tellis told The Washington Post.