US Ambassador Powell Retiring, Not Resigning Insists State Department

Ambassador Nancy Powell signing off

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Washington, DC – The US ambassador to India, Nancy J Powell, Monday announced that she had resigned and was returning home end of May, less than four months after US-India relations went sour over the arrest and strip-search of Indian consul-general in New York, Devyani Khobragade.

“Powell announced in a US mission town hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May,” a US embassy statement in New Delhi announced.

Connecting the departure to Khobragade case, Ravi Batra, Chair, National Advisory Council on South Asia in New York said in a statement to India America Today, “America’s decisive action speaks volumes as to the importance of this bilateral relationship. Amb. Nancy Jo Powell, following Amb. April Glaspie’s catastrophic green-lighting Saddam Hussain’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, green-lighted minor American functionaries to undertake two Devyani-related excessive actions: evacuation and arrest. These led to a bitter chill between genuine friends that history records, and destiny requires, to remain great friends.”

On the other hand, the US State Department denied any connection of Powell’s resignation to any tension or any recent bilateral situation.

Answering questions on the subject at the regular daily briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told journalists on Monday, “It is in no way related to any tension, any recent situations. There’s no big behind the scenes story here.”

“This is the end of a distinguished 37-year career, she deserves to retire – that has included postings as US ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India, as well as service in a number of other locations. But I want to dispel any rumors out there that this is related in any way to anything besides her long-planned retirement,” Harf said.

Asked to comment on the speculations in the Indian media that the resignation reflected “realignment of diplomatic relations between India and the US seven days before the elections”, Harf said there’s “no big secret” to timing here.

“All the rumors and speculation are, quite frankly, totally false. She is retiring, after 37 years – returning home to Delaware by the end of May. I don’t have further insight into why she chose now, but it’s not at all related to anything happening in the relationship. It doesn’t indicate any realignment of the relationship,” she said.

“This is an incredibly key partnership that will continue under our team there and under whoever is named the next ambassador,” Harf said.

The State Department confirmed to India America Today that Ambassador Powell would stay at her post till the end of May but that no decision on her replacement had been made.

On the question of the next person to steer the bilateral relationship in New Delhi after the ambassador was gone, Harf said, “The relationship between the US and India isn’t about one person – while incredibly important, it’s about the whole host of officials that engage, from Secretary (of State, John) Kerry and others at the White House and here on down.”

“So the relationship is much broader than our ambassador, although she is wonderful and amazing, and, again, I think deserves a retirement after 37 years,” Harf said.

Powell was the first woman US envoy to India and had arrived in New Delhi around the middle of April 2012. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before her departure for New Delhi, Powell said India would be “a leading security partner of the United States in the 21st century,” and that “our relations are firmly grounded in a set of shared democratic values and an increasingly shared strategic vision of both the opportunities that can promote those values as well as the threats that can undermine them.”

Wishing Powell all the best, Batra concluded, “As for Amb. Nancy Jo Powell, our former ambassador to Nepal who was given the honor of nurturing and expanding the US-India relationship, her resignation is a sign of her maturity to limit future damage from diplomatic malpractice, and I wish her Godspeed upon her retirement in the great state of Delaware – the state that gave us the ever loveable Joe Biden.”

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