A senior official in the White House’s National Economic Council will soon be named U.S. ambassador to India, four White House officials confirmed. The move comes as the Indian prime minister plans to visit the Trump White House next week for the first time.
Kenneth Juster currently serves as the international deputy to NEC Director Gary Cohn. His exit from the White House has been rumored for weeks, amid reports that he clashed with other senior White House officials on trade and economic issues. But now, senior administration officials say his impending appointment to represent Washington in New Delhi is a consensus pick that places a top notch India expert in a crucial diplomatic post.
Juster is currently going through a new round of clearances before his appointment can be officially announced. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit President Trump at the White House June 26, but Juster’s announcement may not be ready by then, officials said. Nevertheless, the Indian government has endorsed the appointment.
“Ken knows India well and actually was deeply involved in successful bilateral negotiations between the two countries,” said Ashley Tellis, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Indians will welcome him enthusiastically. He is a known quantity.”
The U.S.-India relationship is at a fork in the road, said Tellis. After two successive administrations where bilateral ties were strengthened based on common strategic interests, the Trump administration’s stance is yet to be determined. But Trump’s focus on economic security as a key pillar of foreign policy plays to Juster’s strengths, he said.
Juster has deep experience working on India policy issues and the U.S.-India relationship. As a senior Commerce Department official during the George W. Bush administration, he served as the U.S. chair of the U.S.-India High Technology Cooperation Group, and was one of the key architects of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership initiative between the United States and India. That work helped form the foundation for the landmark civil nuclear agreement between the two countries.
Juster has a wealth of other diplomatic experience. He was acting counselor of the State Department in the early 1990s and senior adviser to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger from 1989-1992. A lawyer by trade, he was partner and managing director at the global investment firm Warburg Pincus from 2010 until he joined the Trump administration.
White House officials said Juster’s move out of the White House was his personal initiative, not the result of any disputes he had with other senior officials who have differing views on economics and trade. After other prospective candidates fell out for various reasons, the opening emerged and Juster pursued it.
Officials acknowledged that Cohn and his team have at times disagreed with other parts of the White House, including the offices led by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and National Trade Council executive director Peter Navarro. And two White House officials did confirm that Juster had clashed with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the context of internal deliberations over trade policy.
A spokesman for Ross didn’t deny the two officials had clashed but said that was now water under the bridge.
“Ken Juster has a strong résumé and, while I only met him half a dozen or so times, I know of no reason why he could not serve our country well as ambassador to such an important country as India,” Ross said in a statement to me.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told me that any policy or personal differences Juster had with other administration officials were not a factor in his selection for the India post.
“His move to India was because he was extremely qualified for the position,” she said. “Ken has a strong and positive relationship with everyone in the White House, including the president.”
Juster is not the first senior member of Cohn’s team to leave the White House. Andrew Quinn, who served as a senior adviser on the National Economic Council, was reassigned to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative in April. He had been the subject of a Breitbart News article entitled “Enemy Within,” which focused on his previous work on the Trans Pacific Partnership.
But if the anti-globalists in the White House were expecting a big change from Juster when he leaves, they might be disappointed. White House officials said his replacement will be Everett Eissenstat, a former assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere who is now chief trade counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.