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Hard work begins now, Obama told me before leaving India: Richard Rahul Verma

At the end of his visit to India this week, US President Barack Obama’s words to Richard Rahul Verma, his envoy to New Delhi, were: “Now, the hard work begins.”

“We are ready to begin that hard work,” Verma said in his first interview after becoming the US ambassador to India. In the interview, with journalist Karan Thapar (broadcast on Headlines Today), he said he was “committed” to working hard to achieve Obama’s vision of making US the “best partner” India had.

“Hard work remains on so many fronts – climate change, education, health care, and the work we can do together not only in India but a whole lot of places around the world. That is my mission that is what I have to do on behalf of the president,” he said.

Verma, 46 and a second-generation Indian American, was appointed to the post earlier this month, ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to India, which was to be followed by Obama’s visit.

He termed the visit of the US President “transformative”, one that brought US-India relations to a new level. A key area of improvement was economic and business ties, he said. Currently, US exports to India account for a mere two per cent of its overall exports, while Indian exports to the US stood at just one per cent of its total exports. “We are nowhere close to realising the potential.”

He added there was movement on the nuclear deal, as “for the first time”, India had committed to the US that it would send data that would satisfy American law. He said the two sides would have to work with supplier companies to address any concerns on the liability issue.

On the US-India strategic vision for the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region, Verma said this wasn’t to contain China. The emerging India-US-Japan-Australia ties in the region, Verma said, was work in progress. The envoy disagreed that Obama’s message on religious freedom at Siri Fort auditorium was specific to India. The US President was speaking as much for American people as for Indians, Verma said, adding Obama’s message was “universal”.

He added his ambassadorial assignment wasn’t just a great professional opportunity, but also personal fulfilment for him and his family. His father had left Jalandhar in Punjab for New York 50 years ago with nothing more than $ 24 and a bus ticket in his pocket, he said.

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