Remarks by Ambassador Richard R. Verma at Brookings India

Thank you, thank you very much, it’s been quite a last few weeks but we have had such a warm welcome in India and we are really delighted to be here and I am delighted to be here at Brookings. So Vikram thank you, Dr. Sidhu thank you as well. And let me thank my friend Strobe Talbott in Washington who when you say, that you know I had to be convinced to come here, once Strobe called and said you know you should come here, that was all I needed to hear because there is no one who knows more or who has spent more time working on India than Strobe. When I saw the other panelists as well, I was really delighted to see Ambassador Sibal and reminded him that in 1992 the two of us actually travelled together to Western Pennsylvania to the district that I was from to do an event with the Indian community there with our local Congressman — Congressman Murtha.  So for those of you who know the D.C.-Pennsylvania area, we spent a lot of time on 270 and 70 headed to western Pennsylvania.  But it’s good to be reconnected after many years. And Jay Panda and I had served on the ASPEN Strategy group together and I was saying to Jay that I was thinking about him about six months ago, when I was listening to a podcast on my iPhone, listening to the Fareed Zakaria GPS show where Fareed had flown to Jay’s constituency, and they did a walk around and it was really about all the changes that were taking place in India and it was one of the most fascinating kind of sessions.  I am really pleased to be here with all of you.


As I said, I have been in India about three weeks now, and already, the Secretary of State has visited Vibrant Gujarat, and as all of you know we are actively anticipating the arrival of the President this weekend. That’s one way to start one’s tenure here, the Secretary of State and the President in the first three weeks. I understand that may not be the norm for the next few weeks, but, as I look ahead on the calendar, I do see several other cabinet secretaries scheduled for February.

For the past 20 years, I have had the good fortune of working in the national security and international affairs field — much of that time focused on South Asia, and whether it was serving in the military, working in the Congress, serving as an Assistant Secretary of State, or working in the private sector, I’ve really been able to see first-hand how important this partnership with India is, how important it can be, and how important it should be.

Let me also say what a personal honor it is to lead the U.S. mission here.  Every day, hundreds of diplomats, development experts, and representatives from across our government engage with their Indian counterparts in some kind of collaboration.  It may be a clean water project in Northern India, it may be a dialogue on homeland defense, a project to train young military officers or simply an exchange of ideas and information on space cooperation.  It’s the unsung, but essential work that goes on every day, every hour, that makes the machinery of our partnership actually work.  It turns the rhetoric of words into action, and it brings our two nations closer together.

And again personally – and Vikram, you mentioned it as well, this is a very special moment for me to return to the country where my parents were born and raised, to represent the United States in this capacity.  My parents like so many other immigrants to the United States tell a very classic immigrant story: arriving in the U.S. in the early ‘60s with little else than what they could carry and only a few dollars.  But somehow, and with perseverance and resilience and with a lot of help from friends and neighbors, they raised five children, they furthered their education, they assimilated into the U.S., but they retained their cultural and ethnic values which they passed to their children.  And the thought that I could return 50 years later as the Ambassador, the first Indian American Ambassador, in this country for which we have so much in common, and share so many values, it really does defy the odds. We don’t take this opportunity lightly and my family and I are very grateful to be here.

How Far We Have Come

So, there is no question that this is a defining time in the U.S.-India relationship.  Things not only feel different;  I think they are different.  President Obama will be the first sitting U.S. President to visit India twice, and as you all know, he will be the first U.S. President to attend Republic Day.  These are not merely symbolic gestures.  The visit reflects the commitment of a President who called the U.S.-India relationship the “indispensable partnership of the 21st Century.”

There is a growing awareness in Washington and New Delhi of the considerable shared interests and values between our two countries.  From expanding trade and defense relationships, to ensuring maritime security and freedom of navigation; from countering terrorist networks, to promoting clean energy and sustainable development, the U.S. and India share a wide range of critical national interests.  Our partnership is deep, it touches nearly every endeavor of human pursuit, and it has produced important gains for each of our countries.

Now, I know there are some who say that this relationship is one that has never quite lived up to the hype or fulfilled its promise, and that we’ve been on a roller coaster of ups and downs and highs and lows, and there’s no doubt that we should not settle for half measures or retreat when the work becomes too difficult.  But we should also recognize the significant progress that has been made, much of it over the past 10 years and I just want to take a quick survey of how far we have come:

  • On defense and strategic cooperation first, since 2005 and the signing of the Defense Framework Agreement, we’ve developed a robust military-to-military relationship, with joint exercises, training and personnel exchanges, with U.S. defense sales now nearly $10 billion, which was unimaginable — unimaginable I will tell you — only a few years ago.  And we hope to launch co-production and development activities under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative – an effort spearheaded by Ash Carter who has been nominated to be the Defense Secretary, and which would result in deepening ties between our two militaries and defense industries.  But there is also a growing strategic convergence of interests, with the U.S. and India reaffirming their commitment during Prime Minster Modi’s September visit to Washington to safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region.  We’ve convened several rounds of our U.S.-India-Japan trilateral and East Asia dialog. And we recently reconvened the Political-Military Dialogue and we are working to expand its role to serve as a wider dialogue on export licensing, defense cooperation, and strategic cooperation.  So there is a lot in this defense and strategic co-operation basket that I think has really come so far and so fast.
  • On economics, trade, and investment, I think all of you know now the two-way trade figure between India and the U.S. approaches $100 billion – a number five times what it was only 10 years ago.  And we actually believe that number can grow another five times – so we’ve set an aggressive target for $500 billion in two-way trade.  I believe confidently we can get there as I think we are only limited by our imagination in the areas in which we can cooperate.  In addition to trade, there are now billions in foreign direct investment, and now tens of thousands of jobs created in both countries by Indian and American companies.  When I was in Gujarat with Secretary Kerry, we had the good pleasure to tour the new Ford Factory in Gujarat – a state of the art facility —  over 450 acres that will provide good jobs and terrific new cars in India and across Asia.  And it’s just one example of the kind of investments that U.S. and Indian companies are making.
  • On clean energy, climate, and infrastructure development, this has been a key area for our partnership in the past, and I predict will prove to be an ever growing part of our engagement in future.  The U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy, known as PACE, is a multi-agency, multi-ministry effort actively helping to deploy capital and technology to businesses moving to renewable sources of energy, while changing the lives of thousands – and eventually millions – of Indians who today lack access to power.   We are currently working with the Indian government on its Smart Cities initiative in three states, as well as on clean water and sanitation projects across India.  The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Partnership for Land-Use Science, is accelerating India’s transition to a lower-carbon economy by scaling back on carbon emissions and by strengthening India’s capacity to develop systems for carbon measurement and monitoring.  So we are doing so much in this area and helping the Indian government to meet its goal of reducing the carbon ‘intensity’ of the Indian economy by 25 percent over 2005 levels by the year 2020.  And we continue to look forward to implementing our civil nuclear cooperation initiative to support the Prime Minister’s goal of providing 24-hour electricity to all Indians by 2019.
  • On Global Health Security, we have worked together to establish the Indian Epidemic Intelligence Service “Disease Detectives” program at the Ministry of Health, which is modeled on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  On medicines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s India Office is building capacity with Indian industry and government to foster a strong indigenous regulatory culture, and improve quality and safety.
  • And on development more broadly, let me just say a goal of U.S. engagement with India is to harness the strengths and capabilities of both countries to tackle development challenges not only in India, but globally.  To this end, we have partnered with the largest women’s trade union in the world, India’s Self-Employed Womens’ Association, or SEWA, to provide vocational training and to empower women from Afghanistan to earn more money for themselves and their families.  We’ve addressed food insecurity challenges in African nations using proven successes developed in India, and we’ve shared India’s successes in stemming HIV/AIDS with other countries in Africa and Asia, and we’ve been working together to improve disaster preparedness and management capacity in the South Asia region.
  • From human rights to education to culture to space, intelligence, and counter-terrorism cooperation, the breadth and depth of our relationship is impressive and it’s growing.  More than 100,000 Indian students currently study in the U.S.,  second only to China.  And our consular section across Mission India is on pace to break all records in the number of visas issued for travel to the U.S.  And in the few months since the PM and President met in D.C. in September, there have been a wide range of meetings and dialogues on intellectual property, on nuclear energy, in finance, and so much more.

The Way Ahead and Conclusion

So, when I say there has been considerable progress, I think it’s important to step back and look at the trajectory of where the relationship has been and where it is headed and to try to keep our eyes focused on this very positive trajectory; and so, when I say I believe we are entering a new era in U.S.-India relations, I’m taking into account the progress we’ve made with the direction where we’re headed.  But let me also say that our success is not a given nor is it preordained.  We will have to continue to work hard at breaking down the barriers that divide us, and seek to expand the areas that unite us.  We will have our differences and we will have our setbacks.  Good friends and close friends always do.  But the important thing is that we keep the lines of communication open and that we not lose sight of the big picture and our broader interests and our shared democratic values.  And long after the Presidential visit is over, and the cameras have been put away and the press conferences have ended, it will be up to all of us – the diplomats, civil society, civil servants, Members of Parliament, and the people of both countries to do the hard work in making this relationship prosper, and to bring to fruition President Obama’s and Prime Minister Modi’s vision that our relationship should not only benefit our two countries, but emerge as a powerful force for peace, stability, and prosperity in the world.

And for my friends at Brookings, you will have the space, the room, and the opportunity to maneuver that governments don’t often have.  And so we look forward to your fresh ideas, your analytical work, your constructive critiques.  And today’s set of publications you are releasing is a good indicator of the promise that exists here and in Indian civil society more broadly.

As some of you will recall, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi made an iconic joint visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.  The symbolism of that visit was clear – Dr. King drew his inspiration from the Father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi.  And so we come full circle:  we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday this week in the United States.  And it is a reminder of those shared values of diversity, inclusion, tolerance, free speech, and the rule of law that continue to pull our governments and our citizens together as natural partners.  So, the partnership between the U.S. and India is vibrant, its growing, but I’m confident the best is yet to come and I look forward to meeting with all of you again following the President’s visit and hearing your thoughts and insights as we head forward together into the next historic chapter of U.S.-India relations.  So Vikram, thank you.  Thank you to Brookings.  I will definitely come back after the President is here and we can engage in a longer Q and A.  I hope you understand the demands of the planning process, but I think we are headed in a very positive and exciting direction for the visit and beyond.  So, thank you all very much.