US Under Secretary Nuland arriving in Nepal next weekA slew of other top-ranking US officials also express their interest in coming to Kathmandu over the next one year.
In a bid to engage and interact with the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government, United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland will be on an official visit to Nepal from January 29-30.
Nuland will be the senior-most foreign dignitary to visit Kathmandu following Dahal’s appointment as prime minister on December 25 last year.
Nuland will also be the senior-most US official to come to Kathmandu after the visit in May last year of US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya. But a formal announcement of Nuland’s visit is yet to be made.
“Senior visits at different levels, both from our side as well as from other countries including the United States are expected,” said Sewa Lamsal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without giving details of Nuland’s visit.
While paying a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Paudyal on Tuesday, the US ambassador to Nepal Dean Thomposn had informed her of Nuland’s upcoming Kathmandu trip, a foreign ministry official who was involved in arranging the meeting told the Post.
But in an email response to the Post, the US Embassy in Kathmandu declined to confirm the visit.
“I look forward to working with Foreign Minister Paudyal,” ambassador Thompson had tweeted after meeting Paudyal. “It was a pleasure to congratulate her and discuss our goals for US-Nepal relations. Our relationship is important as two sovereign, democratic nations with strong people-to-people ties.”
“As of now, Nuland has some engagements in Kathmandu on coming Monday, January 30,” a senior foreign ministry official said. The visit is expected to focus on engaging the new government in Nepal as well as on securing American interests in the country.
These interests include various US government-led initiatives from the implementation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact as well as various other US-funded projects, strengthening of the democratic process, supporting Nepal’s protracted transitional justice process, securing the rights of refugees and marginalised communities, and climate change.
“As Nuland handles political affairs, she will definitely want to know and understand the political issues in Nepal that concern the Biden administration,” a Washington DC-based Nepali diplomat said. “They perhaps want to get a feel of how much the new government values the ties with the US and to what extent it wants to engage with the American government.”
Diplomats in Kathmandu and Washington DC told the Post that more American officials are likely to visit Kathmandu in the coming days. After Nuland returns, US officials have indicated that Afreen Akhter, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives as well in the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs, could visit Kathmandu around mid-February.
“US officials from various bureaus and departments have expressed their interest in visiting Nepal,” said the DC-based Nepali diplomat. “Especially with the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact coming into force in August, some high-level visits from the MCC headquarters are also expected.”
During an interaction with some journalists in Kathmandu on January 12, US ambassador to Nepal Dean Thompson had said that the US gives top priority to the implementation of the MCC Nepal compact and that he has received encouraging feedback from different sections in Nepal for its timely implementation. But US officials and officials from MCA-Nepal have also expressed concerns over hindrances created at the project sites in Ratamate in Nuwakot and Dang where road expansion and upgrade and construction of transmission lines under the compact are taking place. The $500 US project is all set to enter into force from August and the US government wants to ensure it is executed without any further hindrances.
“Hence senior officials from the MCC headquarters are also expected to visit Kathmandu ahead of the compact coming into force,” the DC-based Nepali diplomat said. “As the US government has announced a $659 million or over Rs 85 billion USAID grant for the next five years, senior USAID officials could also visit Kathmandu later this year.”
During their interactions with Nepali officials and diplomats including Nepal’s Ambassador to the US Sridhar Khatri, US officials from the State Department, the National Security Council and the Department of Defense also expressed their interest in visiting Kathmandu.
“As there is a new government in Kathmandu, they must want to know how it intends to take forward ties with the US,” former Nepali ambassador to the US Arjun Karki said. “I think the US officials would want more clarity on Nepal’s foreign policy and geopolitics, and about how the government in Kathmandu is thinking about these issues.”
“It is natural for other countries that have an interest in Nepal to want to better understand its new government and to discuss matters of mutual interest,” said Karki.