Congressional delegation from US arrives in Nepal, will meet with top leadersNepal’s focus should be on strengthening bilateral ties without falling into any kind of geopolitical quagmire, experts advise.
A day after Nepali Ambassador to the United States of America Sridhar Khatri presented his credentials to US President Joe Biden, a high-ranking Congressional delegation arrived in Kathmandu on Friday on a three-day official visit.
The timing of the visit by US officials also coincides with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nepal has already voiced its opposition to the Russian action.
In the last week of February, Nepal’s parliament also ratified the $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact after a long and bitter dispute between those for and against the compact.
In the lead up to the ratification of the MCC Nepal Compact meant for improving electricity supply and roads, Washington’s pressure on the Nepali leadership had become apparent, while Beijing warned against “coercive diplomacy” of the US in Nepal. After the MCC compact’s ratification on February 27, China said it had noted the event, but at least two Chinese government mouthpieces produced strongly worded editorials, saying the US grant undermines Nepal’s sovereignty.
The last time a big team from the US had visited Nepal was in 2017, when the US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led an eight-member bipartisan Congressional delegation to Kathmandu. Later in February 2020, Representative Ami Bera, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, led a four-member bipartisan Congressional delegation to Kathmandu.
According to the US Embassy in Kathmandu, the visiting delegation is led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and includes Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Mark Kelly (Arizona), and Representative Mondaire Jones (17th Congressional District, New York).
Two top government sources told the Post that since the US parliamentary delegation has a special role in enforcing US policies in the visiting nation, they usually raise issues of US concerns like any other official delegation.
The US delegation will discuss a wide range of issues from bilateral cooperation to economic assistance and refugees, including Tibetans, and will thank the Nepali leadership for passing the MCC compact and for Nepal’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the sources said.
“Since all members of the delegation are from the ruling Democratic Party, the purpose of the visit seems to be to shore up international support against the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said Arjun Karki, former Nepali ambassador to the US.
“The delegation will meet with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and other government officials and political leaders. The group of lawmakers is also focused on climate change’s effects in the Himalayan region. They plan on partaking in a hike Saturday afternoon to learn more about this urgent crisis,” according to the US Embassy.
The delegation will meet members of the Nepal-US Parliamentary Committee whose chair is Minendra Rijal, a Nepali Congress lawmaker and former Defence Minister. The delegation will also call on CPN-UML chair and former prime minister KP Oli and Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. They will also visit the headquarters of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Lalitpur.
“This visit is part of a longer trip by the delegation, which has included visiting Poland in order to learn how the US can continue to support Ukraine and NATO allies against Russia’s unprovoked and unwarranted war, and India. Nepal has joined the majority of countries in condemning Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
In this context, the US delegation could raise the issue of Nepal’s plan to procure two MI-17 V5 helicopters from Russia. According to Kantipur, the sister publication of the Post, the government has started the process to procure two helicopters from Russia in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine war. The proposal forwarded long ago by the Nepal Army had remained stuck in the Ministry of Finance but Finance Minister Janardan Sharma has recently given a go ahead for the procurement of the two helicopters which will cost over four billion rupees.
A former Nepali diplomat said the visit holds significance since it is taking place amid heightened geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, and the US delegation is likely to discuss traditional US geopolitical concerns with Nepali officials.
This week also marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Nepal-US relations and in this context both sides are planning to exchange some high-level visits later this year too.
“Climate change is one major issue they will be discussing because the passage of the MCC compact has paved the way for Nepal to engage in cross border trade of clean energy,” Suresh Chalise, another former Nepali ambassador to the United States, said, adding, “The recent $659 million multi-year assistance via United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also demonstrated that US is committed to its relations with Nepal.”“Yes, we know there is a geopolitical competition but our focus should be on strengthening the bilateral ties without falling into any kind of geopolitical quagmire,” said Chalise.