Obama Nominates Indian American as Assistant Secretary of State

Nisha Desai Biswal

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Washington, DC – The growing importance of Indian Americans in US political and diplomatic circles was evidenced as President Barack Obama on Thursday announced the nomination of the first Indian American woman as America’s new point person for South Asia.

After confirmation by the Senate to the post of Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Desai Biswal will succeed Robert Blake to become the first person of South Asian origin to head the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA).

The SCA bureau in the US State Department deals with US foreign policy and US relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The incumbent Blake, in a tweet from the SCA account on Friday, said, “Great News! @NishaBiswal has been officially nominated to be the next A/S for South and Central Asia.”

Biswal is currently serving as the Assistant Administrator for Asia, a position she has held since September 2010 at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is also headed by an Indian American, Rajiv Shah.

Commenting on his nominations for eight senior level administration positions, including the Assistant Secretary of State, President Obama said, “It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this Administration to serve the American people. I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

Biswal has held many positions of responsibility, beginning with working at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC from 1993 to 1995 and as an overseas delegate in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

She served at USAID from 1995 to 1999 in a number of capacities, including Special Assistant to the Administrator, Chief of Staff in the Management Bureau, and in the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Transition Initiatives.

After serving on the professional staff of the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002, Biswal served as the Policy and Advocacy Director at InterAction from 2002 to 2005.

From 2005 to 2010, Biswal was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the US House of Representatives. She has also been a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on the People’s Republic of China since March 2011.

Biswal holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia and is married to Subrat Biswal–they have two daughters.

Previous assistant secretaries of the South Asia bureau, which was created in 1991, are Robin Raphel, Karl Inderfurth, Christina Rocca, Richard Boucher, and the present incumbent, Robert Blake.

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