U.S. discussing “social challenges” with India: Ambassador Elizabeth Jones 

Elizabeth Jones, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. in New Delhi. File photo: Twitter/@USAndIndia

India and the United States have been holding “frank discussions” on “social challenges” for a “long time”, said the senior-most American diplomat stationed in India. Addressing a round table with select media representatives Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, Charge d’Affaires in the Embassy of the United States addressed a wide range of issues and said given the “gigantic” volume of bilateral trade there’s no requirement now for a trade pact between the two sides 

“India-U.S. relation permits us to have frank discussions regarding social challenges. In the United States, treatment of ethnic, racial, and religious minorities attracts a lot of attention—just as it does here. We can learn from each other, I believe, about how to promote tolerant behaviour among diverse communities because we have similar experiences and similar challenges in those social areas,” said Ambassador Jones who is the face American diplomacy in India right now. India does not have an American Ambassador as the Biden administration’s choice of envoy has not found legislative clearance do far. Ms. Jones’ comments about trade, regional security and social values came days after the Government of India extended the tenure of its envoy to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu by one year. Mr Sandhu was scheduled to retire in January 2023 but after the latest extension, he will retire in January 2024.

Elizabeth Jones is one of the senior most diplomats in the U.S. foreign service and has served previously as the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia (2001-2005) when the late Colin Powell was the Secretary of State. She achieved the rank of “Career Ambassador” in the US Foreign Service.

The U.S. envoy said the bilateral ties with India is “one of the most consequential relationships” that has been developed “relatively recently” and it has potential important outcomes for both sides. Responding to a question from The Hindu, Ms Jones dealt with the use of hate speech and communally inflammatory remarks as witnessed during the current state-level elections in India and said, “We talk of this (with India) perpetually. We discuss both easy and difficult issues. We have been discussing this for a long time and will continue to do so.” 

She further said that U.S. has been talking to India about how different communities can “co-exist”. The recent report of the USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) had urged the State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concern” or CPC. Ms Jones said the USCIRF is not an executive arm and that it is “free to write whatever report they write, and we are free to deal with it in whatever way we like”.

The responses reflect American foreign policy establishment’s consistent position on difficult issues like hate speech that was recently highlighted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during his visit in Mumbai on October 19.

Ms. Jones described the numbers of India-U.S. bilateral trade as “gigantic” and said companies on both sides are collaborating in “newer sectors”. India has signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the United Arab Emirates and an Economic and Trade Cooperation Agreement (ECTA) with Australia, India’s partner at the Quad initiative. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had said in September that India would like to discuss a trade pact with the United States. Ambassador Jones expressed satisfaction about the large volume of trade between two sides and said that there is no discussion on this issue between the two countries and added, “With the doubling of trade in the last 7 years. I don’t think anyone believes we need a trade deal”.

The veteran diplomat said Biden administration will support Indian Presidency of the 2023 G-20 summit and announced that the two sides will hold the “2+2” dialogue in 2023. She dealt with the differences with India regarding the Ukraine crisis and said the U.S. side is willing to be “in the same room with Russia”. “We are very energised by India taking over as the President of the G20. It demonstrates to the international community the leadership capacity of India in a very complex world and in a world in which there’s a tremendous effort to find ways to improve the situation in climate, health, education- the kind of issues that touch people’s lives every day,” said Ms Jones.

She informed that the U.S. government has issued 82,000 student visas to Indian nationals during the summer of 2022 and that the U.S. government is currently recruiting many consular officials out of which several will be posted to India. She announced that the delay in getting U.S. visas is an issue “generated by the (systemic effects) of the pandemic” and the delays will be sorted out by next summer when the U.S. visa facilities across the world will be “fully staffed”.

The senior envoy said the recent defence equipment supplies meant for the F16 fleet of Pakistan Air Force were “not upgrades” and that the threats from China are something “that is for India to talk about.” When asked about the Chinese objection to the India-U.S. joint military exercise ‘Yudh Abhyas’ that was held in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, she said, “It is none of their business”.

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