Senior US and Indian officials visiting Nepal next weekUS assistant secretary Donald Lu will arrive on November 17 and Indian transport minister Nitin Gadkari on November 18.
Nepal is set to see a flurry of political visits from India and the United States, in what many dub increased diplomatic engagements from friendly nations. A series of in-person visits is on the cards after a lull caused by the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years.
Some high-profile visits are in the pipeline, according to officials.
Kathmandu is hosting two-high level officials from India and the United States this month.
“These visits are part of high-level exchanges with friendly nations,” said a Foreign Ministry official.
Indian Minister for Road, Transportation and Highways Nitin Gadkari, who is also a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, is visiting Kathmandu on November 18.
Gadkari is arriving in Kathmandu at the invitation of Patanjali Yogpeeth Nepal. Saligram Singh, head of Patanjali Yogpeeth Nepal, told the Post that besides Minister Gadkari, Yoga guru Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, chairman of the Patanjali Ayurved, are also visiting Kathmandu.
During his stay in Kathmandu, Gadkari is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other leaders from the ruling and opposition parties. Gadkari’s visit will be a continuation of visits by several other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders since Deuba took office on July 13.
Other details of Gadkari's visit were not immediately available.
An official familiar with the Indian minister’s travel plan said during his meetings in Nepal bilateral issues of cooperation will be discussed.
Similarly, the United States is also sending one of its top diplomats to Kathmandu and some regional nations on a familiarization trip.
According to sources, Donald Lu, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, will be travelling to Nepal on November 17. During his two-day stay in Kathmandu, Lu is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Deuba, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and some other ministers and senior politicians.
The trip is part of his courtesy calls on regional leaders since being confirmed as assistant secretary on September 15, sources added.
Lu’s visit to Kathmandu is taking place at a time when a key bilateral issue with the US is being hotly debated in political circles and civil society in Nepal.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), under which Nepal is to receive $500 million in grants from the United States, is currently awaiting parliamentary ratification.
Political parties are sharply divided over whether Nepal should go for parliamentary ratification of the grant. Nepal had even written to the MCC headquarters regarding concerns raised by some sections of people about the US grant. MCC Vice President Fatema Sumar visited Nepal in September and held a series of meetings with Nepali politicians including Prime Minister Deuba and discussed the MCC.
Officials say the MCC could figure during Lu’s meetings with Nepali leaders but besides that other bilateral issues, including US cooperation and partnership and vaccine support, will also be discussed.
Another foreign ministry official said that some other diplomatic visits from the European Union, France and Switzerland, among others, are also on the cards.
Likewise, Nepal is also planning to host two mega events—a second donor conference for Nepal’s reconstruction and Sagarmatha Sambad both of which remain stalled for almost two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In-person meetings are helpful in strengthening diplomatic relations, according to Dinesh Bhattarai, a former ambassador.
“With the Covid-19 situation easing, it’s good that there are diplomatic visits to Nepal lined up from friendly countries,” Bhattarai told the Post.
Prime Minister Deuba recently travelled to Glasgow to participate in the UN Climate Conference, where he held meetings with several world leaders including US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Earlier in September, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka travelled to New York to participate in the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Besides addressing the General Assembly, Khadka held talks with his counterparts from various countries, including India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
“It’s not that meetings were halted during the pandemic, but they were held virtually. Now more in-person meetings are going to take place which are extremely helpful in diplomacy,” said Sewa Lansal, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry.
Nepal is also set to send delegates to various platforms in the coming months, according to her.
Nepal Army chief Prabhu Ram Sharma returned from India on Friday after completing a four-day official visit. Sharma, who was conferred the honorary rank of General of the Indian Army by Indian President Ramnath Kovind on Wednesday, held a meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on Thursday. Sharma also met with several Indian military and defense officials in New Delhi.
“In the coming weeks and months, Nepal is preparing to participate in the fifth UN conference on the least developed countries in Doha in January, a ministerial meeting of the UN peacekeeping operations, and the World Economic Forum, among others,” she said.