USAID’s Samantha Power likely to visit Nepal on February 5There are also chances of US Secretary of State Blinken coming here following his India trip in early March.
Next month, less than a week after the US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland wraps up her two-day Nepal visit, another senior official from the Biden administration is visiting Kathmandu in a bid to ramp up engagement and interaction with the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government.
Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who holds a Cabinet rank in the US order of precedence, is arriving in Kathmandu on February 5, multiple sources confirmed to the Post. As the USAID chief, she is also a member of the US National Security Council.
If the visit materialises, she will be the senior-most foreign dignitary to visit Kathmandu after the formation of the Dahal-led government last month.
These visits, said senior government officials and diplomats, should be viewed as a proof of the importance the US gives to Nepal.
Two back-to-back high-level visits from the US indicate that the Biden administration wants to engage the new government in Kathmandu and ensure that the US interests are not compromised, they said.
“As there is a different kind of political dispensation in Kathmandu compared to the previous Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government, the interest of the Western bloc is increasing,” said a Washington DC-based Nepali diplomat. “They want to know if there will be a policy shift in Kathmandu. You could say the Westerners are coming to get a pulse of the new government.”
Broadly, Nuland’s visit is political and focused on bilateral ties and securing American interests while Power’s is focused on development cooperation, the diplomat added.
Power’s official engagements in Kathmandu are scheduled for February 6 and 7, when she will meet Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Bishnu Poudel and Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Paudyal, among others. She will also discuss the implementation of various USAID-initiated projects in Nepal.
Officials also indicated the possibility of more high-level visits from the US in coming months. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is visiting New Delhi in the first week of March to attend the G20 ministerial meeting. Chances are, he could also come to Nepal, a senior Nepali bureaucrat familiar with the development told the Post.
“We have to push and prod the Americans to get Blinken to visit Nepal as there have been very few high-level visits from the US after the restoration of democracy in 1990,” added the bureaucrat.
The USAID is yet to announce Power’s visit as it could be cancelled at the last moment if another urgent business crops up for the high-ranking American official, another official told the Post. The US Embassy in Kathmandu also did not want to confirm the visit.
Power will come nine months after the government of Nepal and the USAID signed a $659 million new “development objective” agreement in May last year.
The grant [equivalent to Rs81 billion] for the next five years will support Nepal’s goal of graduating to a middle-income country. (Nepal plans on graduating from the Least Developed Country category by December 2026.) During Power’s visit, according to Nepali officials familiar with the developments, a new development agreement could be announced for the start of a USAID-funded project.
“We are discussing with some line ministries whether it is possible to announce the start of at least one USAID-funded project during the visit under the new assistance signed last year,” said Ishwari Prasad Aryal, head of international economic cooperation coordination division at the Ministry of Finance.
“She might discuss with us issues related to execution of the USAID-funded projects,” said Aryal. “If we can coordinate with other line ministries and arrive at a conclusion, one of the projects could be started.”
Earlier in 2014, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah had visited Kathmandu.
A foreign ministry official said that back-to-back high-level visits from the US are suggestive of their growing interest in Nepal on multiple fronts.
“Most of the time, dignitaries from powerful countries like India, China and the US visit us as per their convenience, not ours. Two high-level visits from the US in the interval of a week shows that the US has deep interests in Nepal and wants to engage the country at multiple levels,” the foreign ministry official said.
“Their focus will be on studying the geopolitical rivalry here as well as implementation of US-funded projects in Nepal. The rest, we will know when they come and interact with us,” added another foreign minister source.
Power is a cabinet-rank minister as well as a powerful and influential official in the Biden administration. Besides launching the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact for which Nepal received $500 million last year, the Biden administration also approved a record $659 million assistance last year.
The MCC Nepal Compact for the execution of road-upgrade and cross-border transmission line construction comes into force in August. The USAID partners with the government of Nepal, civil society, and the private sector and mainly focuses on sustainable development through strengthening democratic governance, enterprise-driven economic growth, and increased resilience for communities at risk due to climate change. The assistance that Nepal gets from the USAID is put to use through various treasury modalities.
After signing the agreement, the finance ministry had said, the USAID will develop projects under this assistance in collaboration with the line ministries and as per government rules and regulations.
“These repeated high-level American visits have to be seen in the context of the election of a new parliament with many new faces, followed by the election of a new government,” said Suresh Chalise, a former Nepali ambassador to the US. “In this light, these visits are most natural.”