Deuba set to visit US in July, in first official high-level trip from Nepal in 20 yearsVisit to Washington has quite some context, which will help fortify ties, amid rapid geopolitical shifts, observers say.
If everything goes as planned and per schedule, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will be embarking on a visit to Washington in mid-July, in a first official visit by a Nepali prime minister in two decades.
According to diplomatic, political and government sources, the proposed dates are July 14-16.
Both sides, however, are also considering another date, which could be early July.
The sources said there are two windows—early July and mid-July—given the tight schedule of US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and senior American officials.
“The prime minister will be visiting the United States this year. Both sides are working on dates,” said Govinda Pariyar, press chief to Prime Minister Deuba. “He will be participating in the second Summit for Democracy. Anyway, the prime minister will be attending the coming session of the United Nations General Assembly.”
According to Pariyar, the visit may happen early also as the Foreign Ministry and the US embassy in Kathmandu are working on the dates.
“Once his meetings and other engagements in the US are fixed, the visit will be announced,” Pariyar told the Post.
Nepal’s prime ministers have been regularly visiting the United States, but mostly to New York, and these are not part of bilateral visits.
Kathmandu and Washington are working on the prime ministerial level as this year also marks the 75th anniversary of US-Nepal diplomatic ties. Despite sharing such longstanding ties, there have not been many high-level exchanges between the two countries.
Lately, Washington seems to be showing a renewed interest in sending high-level officials to Kathmandu. Just last week, US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya concluded her three-day Nepal visit, the highest level visit since 2012. In recent months, US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu visited Kathmandu in November followed by Vice President of Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Operation Fatema Z Sumar in September. Similarly, a US Congressional delegation led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also visited Kathmandu in the third week of April.
The Nepal-US ties have been steady over the last seven decades. Washington, however, appeared to have been frustrated only recently when Nepali political leadership vacillated about ratifying the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact.
Nepali parties at the last hour managed to hash out a deal to ratify the $500 million grant.
The recent highest level official visit from Nepal to the United States took place in December 2018 when then foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali flew to Washington, marking the first visit by a Nepali foreign minister in 17 years.
Concerns, however, started to arise from the same visit that took place during Donald Trump’s presidency. After the State Department’s statement that Nepal was part of the Washington-led Indo-Pacific Strategy, some observers were quick to question if Nepal was falling into a geopolitical quagmire. Confusion was further fuelled after some US officials remarked that the MCC was part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which some believe is Washington’s ploy to counter China, Nepal’s northern neighbour.
In the wake of Nepali communist leaders’ continued opposition to the MCC, its ratification got delayed, which vexed Washington to the extent that it even warned of reviewing its Nepal policy should Kathmandu fail to ratify the grant.
Prime Minister Deuba, who also leads the five-party coalition, however, played an instrumental role in getting the grant ratified.
Nepal’s Foreign Ministry and the US embassy in Kathmandu said that Prime Minister Deuba’s visit to Washington is “a work in progress.”
Those following Nepal-US relations say there are some contexts for Deuba’s visit to Washington.
“The recent passage of the MCC compact, Nepal’s successful local elections and 75 years of bilateral ties just simply make a visit to Washington at the prime ministerial level imperative,” said Suresh Chailse, Nepal’s former ambassador to the United States. “The visit will certainly help further strengthen Nepal-US ties.”
Among Nepali politicians, Deuba has always been considered close to the United States. He had visited Washington last in 2002 when he was prime minister for the second time.
Observers say Deuba’s democratic credentials also make the US more comfortable with him, compared to other prime ministers in the recent past—mostly from communist parties—who have had directly or indirectly shown their tilt towards China.
Deuba’s welcome to Zeya, who is also the US special coordinator for Tibetan issues, recently, and Kathmandu’s tacit allowance to visit some Tibent refugee leaders also has been taken note of by some observers.
“Wonderful exchange today with Prime Minister @SherBDeuba about our countries’ 75 years of friendship and ways we can work together to strengthen democracy and human rights in Nepal and beyond,” Zeya tweeted on Sunday after her meeting with Prime Minister Deuba.
Observers say Deuba’s potential visit to Washington, however, should be taken as a regular one, as there has not been any high-level visit to the US over the last two decades and that it was high time a visit took place.
“During his upcoming visit, the prime minister can take up several agendas while meeting with top US officials,” said Chalise. “Clean energy to the conversation on the Himalayan ecosystem, the prime minister can discuss some pressing issues with the top US leadership.”
Chalise said that the US leadership appears to be happy with Deuba after the MCC compact’s passage and some of the foreign policy initiatives taken by Deuba.
“We have to attract investment from the US and we need more financial assistance for strengthening federalism. So the prime minister can take up these issues besides Nepal’s keenness to harvest clean energy and its interest to work together to mitigate the challenges posed by climate change,” said Chalise.
The US anyway is, according to Chalise, Nepal’s biggest bilateral donor.
Some foreign policy observers said that Nepal and the US have entered into a phase of “close relationship” and the Biden administration is giving due importance to Nepal due to some geopolitical reasons.
“It seems the era of close relationship between Nepal and US has begun, and the Biden administration attaches more importance to Nepal. Now we have seen that development cooperation from the US has increased,” said Vijay Kant Karna, former Nepali ambassador to Denmark and a professor of political science. “The high-level visits from both sides should translate into economic cooperation.”
Officials said besides meetings with President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, officials are also working on some other meetings and programmes during Deuba’s visit to Washington, including an address to a think tank.
Karna believes Deuba’s visit amid a flurry of arrivals from Washington will help give impetus to Nepal-US ties.
“The visit should translate into outcomes in the areas like investment, trade, development cooperation and climate crisis among others,” said Karna.
A Foreign Ministry official did not rule out the prime minister’s visit to the US but said there was nothing “concrete” to share at this time.
“This is budget time and the government is busy,” said the official. “There is a general understanding that the prime minister will be visiting the US in a couple of months.”
Asked about Nepali prime minister’s probable visit to Washington, a US embassy spokesperson said: “Nothing confirmed yet.”