New Delhi: There must have been wide smiles on many faces in South Block today after a leading American newspaper reported that well-known South Asia expert Ashley J. Tellis could be US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next US ambassador to India.
A Washington Post article on Monday seemed to indicate that the Trump transition team was paying a lot of attention to Asia and building on President Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia policy in order to calm jittery allies in the region.
The report said that picks for ambassadorial positions in Asia were “outpacing” those in other regions. Quoting “transition sources”, the article said that Trump was “close to selecting Ashley Tellis, a former White House official and renowned India expert, to be the next U.S. ambassador to India”
While Tellis’s name has been welcomed by all quarters in India, it is also a bit of a surprise as during the election campaign, Tellis was not exactly Trump’s biggest fan.
His name was among the list of 50 Republicans released by Hillary Clinton’s campaign who had endorsed the former first lady for US President. The website, which was launched on August 10 to showcase the wider appeal of Clinton beyond partisan lines, is now defunct.
Tellis is very well known to the current foreign policy leadership, especially foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, as both were involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement. The Mumbai-born Tellis was a senior advisor to the state department’s under-secretary of state for political affairs during the nuclear negotiations.
He has previously served as senior advisor to the US ambassador to Delhi, Robert Blackwill; National Security Council special assistant to the president and senior director for strategic planning in Southwest Asia. Currently, Tellis is a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
If Tellis becomes the next US envoy, it will be the second time in a row that an Indian-American will be occupying the post of the top American diplomat in India. Incidentally, Richard Verma, who will be leaving on January 20, as he is a political appointee, was also a South Block-favourite due to his familiarity with Indian officials, formed when he served as senior national security advisor to then Senate majority leader Harry Reid, during the long legislative process of passing the legislation to approve the US-India civil nuclear agreement.
At an Asia Society programme after the US presidential results were out, Tellis said that the president-elect had a strategic choice ahead of him that would be determined by whether he wanted to make his life easy or difficult. “That essentially boils down to the fundamental question of whether the US is ready to make the investments necessary to protect the liberal world order that we created after world war two,” he said on November 10.
Tellis said that the president-elect had to realise that the liberal world order was not protected by the US as a “favour”, but “we do it first as foremost as it is in our self-interest”.
“A real renewal of the longstanding American commitment to preserve a rule-based regime in the areas of inter-state behaviour, in the area of trade, in the areas of protecting security in the commons is fundamental. I think it is particularly fundamental due to the discussion during the campaign, where the international liberal order was seen as optional in terms of advancing American interests,” Tellis said at a discussion titled ‘Advice for President Trump on Asia’.