Biden's Ambassador Pick Will Prioritise Strengthening India's Capacity to 'Deter Aggression'
07:13 GMT 15.12.2021 (Updated: 10:40 GMT 19.07.2022)
Eric Garcetti, tipped to be the next US ambassador to India, said during a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that "few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India". Garcetti stated that if confirmed, he would try to strike a balance between deepening bilateral ties and raising human rights concerns.
The 50-year-old mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has said that helping India "defend its sovereignty" as well as engaging with the Indian government on "democratic backsliding" and "discrimination" against minorities would be his priorities once he is confirmed as Washington's next envoy to New Delhi.
Garcetti was tapped by the Biden administration in July to be the next American ambassador to India.
Yet, the confirmations of Garcetti and dozens of other prospective US ambassadors have been pending before the US Congress amid a logjam over disagreements on national security policies between the Democrats and the Republicans.
14 December 2021, 07:24 GMT
On Tuesday, Garcetti, along with Donald Bloom (Biden's pick as next US ambassador to Pakistan) and Dr Amy Gutman (the pick for envoy to Berlin), appeared before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a confirmation hearing.
"India is situated in a tough neighbourhood. If confirmed, I intend to double-down on our efforts to strengthen India's capacity to secure its borders, defend its sovereignty, and deter aggression", Garcetti said.
"We will do that through counterterrorism cooperation, joint freedom of navigation and patrolling and military exercises, which I have witnessed personally with my brave Indian counterparts, as well as through the sales of best defence technology to fully realise the potential of our major defence partnership", added the LA mayor.
The remarks come amid a lingering border standoff
between China and India in the eastern Ladakh region.
Thirteen rounds of military commander-level talks and several rounds of official meetings, including a series of talks between the foreign ministers, have failed to resolve the standoff, the deadliest in over four decades.
Garcetti was also probed on how he would help the US navigate the India-Russia relationship, as members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee pointed at the $5.43 billion deal between New Delhi and Moscow for the supply of five columns of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
Despite several members of the Biden administration indicating that New Delhi could be sanctioned under a domestic piece of legislation called the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)
for engaging in defence transactions with Moscow, New Delhi went ahead with the deal and said it was in India's "national interest" to do so.
"If confirmed, though, I would advocate following the continued diversification of India's weapon[s] system, the threats to our own weapon[s] systems if that diversification doesn't occur, because we have to protect our data and our systems and work towards really growing this major defence partnership", Garcetti said.
Garcetti also said that he would "regularly engage" with Indian officials on various issues of human rights, including on "democratic backsliding" in the country as well as "discrimination against minorities".
"There's no question that the US-India relationship should be underpinned by our common commitment to democracy, to human rights, and civil society, as enshrined in our constitutions", remarked Garcetti.
Garcetti was then asked if he would raise India's Citizenship Amendment Law (CAA)
, which the senators described as "discriminating" against Muslims, with New Delhi during his potential stint in India.
"…human rights, defence of democracy is a pillar of our foreign policy but to answer specifically, if confirmed, I will actively raise these issues or raise them with humility. It's a two-way street on these, but I intend to engage directly with civil society", Garcetti replied.
The CAA fast-tracks citizenship applications to India for non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It was cleared by the Indian Parliament in 2019.
The new law triggered widespread protests by Muslim organisations and opposition parties in India, who argue that the CAA could be a ploy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government to disenfranchise Muslims.
The Indian prime minister and Home Minister Amit Shah have maintained that the CAA won't lead to any Indian citizen being deprived of their citizenship.