By Santosh Ghimire
Kathmandu, Feb 8: A senior United States official arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday as Washington stepped up its engagement with the communist-dominated new government that came to power barely seven weeks ago.
Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power landed in the Nepali capital to hold high-level talks including Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Deputy Prime Minister Bishnu Poudel and Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Paudyal.
Apart from that she will also be holding meetings with civil rights groups and taking part in USAID-funded projects in Nepal.
The visit comes a week after US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland visited Kathmandu who encouraged Nepali leadership to be extra cautious while dealing with China and India on the economic front. However, she said that her country welcomes Nepal's good ties with its both immediate neighbours.
Power's visit is taking place at a time when the United States has renewed its interests in South Asia, primarily to counter an aggressive China which has also poured significant investments in smaller South Asian nations including Nepal.
There have been flurry of visits from the US to Nepal in recent weeks, indicating that the Biden administration wants to engage with the news China-friendly government to ensure that the US geo-strategic interests in the Himalayan region are not compromised, observers say.
After Power's trip, another US high-ranking official is visiting Nepal in mid- February. According to sources, Afreen Akhter, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, as well as the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs, is visiting Nepal.
"Tentatively she is expected to be here in mid-February, but exact dates are being worked out," an official at Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told India Narrative.
A senior Nepali official said that they are well aware of Washington's strategic ambitions in Nepal.
"Big powers have their own geostrategic ambitions. For example, the US has come up with its Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS) to contain China militarily while China is pushing for the Global Security Initiative (GSI) to counterbalance it. We will not be cajoled by the US-China geopolitical competition at all. We will pursue our independent foreign policy," the official told India Narrative on Tuesday.
Many in Nepal still view the United States as their "distant neighbour". Nepal and the United States established diplomatic ties back in 1948 in the midst of Cold War.
Power's visit, highest level after 2002
Power is the highest level official of the United States to come to Nepal after the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Kathmandu in 2002 when the country's armed conflict was at its peak.
Power holds a Cabinet rank in the US order of precedence. She is the first USAID Administrator to be a member of the National Security Council, where she is mandated to ensure that development plays a critical role in America's responses to a range of economic, humanitarian, and geopolitical issues.
Prior to joining the Biden-Harris Administration, Power was the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the William D. Zabel Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School. From 2013 to 2017, Power served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the 28th US Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
"While there, Administrator Power will meet with civil society leaders, community groups, students, businesses, and government officials to discuss Nepal's efforts and achievements in becoming a more democratic, prosperous, inclusive, and resilient country," read the press statement issued by the USAID headquarters ahead of her visit.
During the visit, the USAID Administrator Power will underscore the United States' enduring, more than 75-year partnership with the government and people of Nepal, according to the statement.
She will highlight USAID's commitment to increasing our engagement with Nepal and its new government.
"Administrator Power will announce new efforts to build momentum to strengthen democratic gains in federalism, social inclusion, civil society, and media freedom," the USAID added.
During her visit to Kathmandu, the two countries are expected to discuss the implementation of several projects being implemented by the USAID in partnership with the Nepali government.
(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative's Nepal Correspondent based in Kathmandu)