US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu arriving next week for one-day visitIn November 2021, Lu had threatened leaders that the US would rethink Nepal ties if MCC compact was not passed.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu is arriving in Kathmandu on a day-long visit next week, according to sources. But the two sides are yet to make a formal announcement.
“As part of his South Asian tour, Lu is arriving on a very short visit to Kathmandu,” a diplomatic source in Kathmandu told the Post. He will be visiting India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, among other countries.
“Lu will land in Kathmandu on July 14 and spend a few hours here. He will have regular political meetings in and outside the embassy, but he does not have any particular agenda. He is traveling the region,” the diplomatic source told the Post.
He will meet Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Foreign Minister NP Saud among other senior officials and some political leaders whose confirmations are yet to be made, said foreign ministry officials.
The senior US official is coming at a time when visits from Beijing have increased and the number of high-level trips to China is also on an upward trajectory.
Lu has already visited Kathmandu twice.
He had last come to Kathmandu in November 2021, ahead of the Parliament’s ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Parliament to put pressure on the political leadership to ratify the compact without further delay. He paid the visit at a time when the MCC Nepal Compact had become a political hot potato, Lu met the then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-UML chair KP Oli and CPN (Maoist Center) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and asked them to ensure that the compact passes parliament within the February 28 deadline, which was set by Nepali leaders themselves.
As if the pressure was not enough, Lu on February 10, 2022 called Deuba, Oli and Dahal from Australia and threatened that Washington would review its relations with Nepal if the compact was not passed by February 28.
This was one of the most blunt messages the Americans have delivered to Nepal since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1947.
And just a day ahead of the deadline, the US compact was ratified by the Nepali Parliament on February 27, 2022.
Then, in the following July, Lu again visited Kathmandu after Kathmandu refused to be part of the US State Partnership Program (SPP) against the backdrop of strong public opinion against the program.
In line with Nepal’s stated policy of not becoming part of any security or military alliance, the then Deuba government decided to stay away from the SPP, which is also regarded as part of the America-led Indo-Pacific Strategy. The US describes the strategy as “an ironclad and enduring commitment” to a region that spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent. The strategy focuses on three areas—economics, governance, and security.
Lu in July last year had met the then prime minister Deuba and then Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka but did not mention or discuss Nepal’s decision to stay away from the SPP.
The upcoming visit will be Lu’s first to Kathmandu after Pushpa Kamal Dahal was elected prime minister in December last year.
But some other senior officials including US Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland visited Kathmandu in January.
Soon after she left, Samantha Power, the chief of the USAID and deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) Afreen Akhter visited Kathmandu and engaged with political leadership of Nepal, senior officials, civil society, and business community among others.
In February this year, the Nepal government stopped US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Chief Williams Burns from visiting Kathmandu citing security reasons.
“Burns wanted to land in Kathmandu on February 15 and leave the next day,” a senior security official said, adding, “but the visit was stopped with Prime Minister Dahal’s direct intervention.”
Nepal’s immediate neighbors were reportedly not happy with Burn’s planned visit, according to sources.
Lu is arriving in Kathmandu at a time when the date for the MCC compact’s entry into the force is approaching.
“US top priority in Nepal is the compact’s unhindered implementation,” a senior finance ministry official said. “Though we are not aware about the visit and the agenda, the compact’s implementation is the key foreign policy priority for the Americans in Nepal.”
During a recent meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha on May 20, MCC Vice President Jonathan Brooks had asked for assistance from the Home Ministry in issues like land acquisition for MCC-related two projects, security and coordination from the local administration on the MCC projects and other cooperation from the local administrations, according to the home ministry.
Home Secretary Dinesh Bhattarai, who participated in the meeting, said Deputy Prime Minister Shrestha told the MCC delegation that there will be sufficient support from the ministry to complete the MCC-funded projects on time, according to the statement issued after the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that it has not received any communication on Lu’s visit. “We don’t have any information to share on the purported visit,” Paras Pandit, deputy spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post.