Vajda to be sworn in as top US diplomat for South Asia as Wells retires

WASHINGTON: United States Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas L Vajda will take over charge of South Asian affairs at the US State Department after Alice Wells, the current top diplomat for South Asia, retires on May 22, the department confirmed on Monday.

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“I will miss Alice’s wise counsel and dedicated efforts to build relationships and address challenges across South and Central Asia,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Sunday afternoon, announcing the change in the state department.

“I personally came to admire Ambassador Wells’ dedication to our team’s mission and her dogged pursuit of American excellence. We commend her service and wish her the best,” he added in his departing message for Wells on the social networking platform.

Vajda was earlier consul general in Mumbai

The acting top US diplomat for South Asia announced her retirement Sunday, as President Donald Trump looks increasingly likely to go a full term without a Senate-confirmed State Department official focused on the subcontinent.

Alice Wells, a career diplomat who has served as acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia for most of the Trump administration, will retire on May 22 after a 31-year career, the State Department said.

Tom Vajda, a veteran US diplomat on South Asia who was earlier consul general in Mumbai, will take over, a State Department spokesperson said. Trump has called for a close relationship with India and has bonded with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including on a visit to the country in February.

Wells active in promoting closer US-India ties

But under Trump, South and Central Asia has been the only region of the world yet to have a full-fledged assistant secretary of state confirmed by the Senate.

Wells, despite not having the authority of a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation, has been active in promoting a closer US relationship with India.

She nonetheless made headlines last year when she called on India to restore internet access and free political leaders following its clampdown in the Indian-occupied Kashmir valley.

It was a rare statement of concern over India´s rights record, following pressure from the US Congress. Also last year, she made an unusually detailed case for Pakistan to be wary about China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Wells´ departure also comes as the United States begins to pull troops from Afghanistan to end its longest-ever war, although a special US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in charge of negotiating with the Taliban.

With additional input from AFP

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