This interview

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Interview with U.S. Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer

March 30 2010

We are excited to interview the US Ambassador to India, Dr. Timothy J. Roemer. Appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama, Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer is the 21st and current U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of India. He leads one of America's largest diplomatic missions and has principal responsibility for broadening and deepening the multi-faceted U.S.-India partnership. From New Delhi to Hyderabad, from Kolkata to Lucknow, Ambassador Roemer has enthusiastically reached out to the people of India, leading by example in strengthening the people-to-people ties that form the foundation of the expanding U.S.-India relationship. While marveling at the exquisite beauty of the Taj Mahal, catching a glimpse of wild tigers in Ranthambore, or rafting in the holy waters of the Ganges, Ambassador Roemer has traveled extensively across India meeting with a range of national and community leaders, Nobel laureates, business leaders, NGOs, and schoolchildren.

Prior to his nomination as Ambassador to India, Ambassador Roemer was President of the Center for National Policy (CNP) in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Roemer has served in the United States House of Representatives from 1991-2003 as a Democrat from Indiana's 3rd Congressional district. He was a member of the 9/11 Commission, as well as the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism.

Ambassador Roemer holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego, and an M.A. and PhD. in American Government from the University of Notre Dame. His interests include basketball, coaching his children in sports, reading history and biographies, and collecting first edition books. You can follow his blog, Roaming Roemer.

app2us: Mr. Ambassador, it is a great honor to interview you, thank you for your kind gesture to interview with US India relations have improved a lot over the past decade. What are the major areas of cooperation in the coming years?
Ambassador Roemer: As my President Barack Hussein Obama said when he hosted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House in November 2009, the relationship between India and the United States will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

We are working together in areas that span the entire breadth of human endeavor from space to education to commerce to health. I am incredibly proud of our work across the board.

In terms of my current areas of focus, we are working hard to further enhance our counter terror cooperation - to enhance information collection, intelligence sharing and analysis capabilities. The information we've shared has already saved lives. Together, we're keeping our countries safe, and we'll continue to work together to fight the threat of violent global extremism.

Another example is in higher education. The U.S. and India have a long history of educational cooperation, from exchanges to joint research initiatives to scholarships. These ties are growing deeper by the day, reaching out to all Indians and Americans alike. We have a record 100,000 Indians studying in the U.S. this year and I look forward to that number growing even more in 2011.

app2us: You have sponsored and championed important education reforms in the Congress. What are the most satisfying achievements of your career as a Congressman from Indiana?
Ambassador Roemer: Many of my efforts during my Congressional career were related to improving education. I was the principal author of the Ed-Flex bill, which encouraged states to seek innovative approaches to education. I was also the chief sponsor of the "Transition to Teaching" bill that helped address teacher shortages by recruiting and training professionals to become teachers. I also co-authored "School-to-Work" legislation to help non-college-bound high school students learn skills to prepare them for the workforce. I was also active in national security legislation authoring a bill to create the 9/11 Commission and writing another bill to encourage more diversity in our language training in the intelligence community.

app2us: You have been very active in mixing with Indian people and organizations. What about India has impressed you the most since your arrival?
Ambassador Roemer: My wife Sally and our kids, Patrick, Matthew, Sarah, and Grace and I have all been so warmly welcomed by people all over India. We have been impressed by your resources of nature - viewing tigers in Ranthambore Park, rafting in the holy Ganges River near the Himalayas, and walking the beautiful beaches of Goa. People have welcomed us into their homes, their communities, and their hearts. Whether I am driving a cycle rickshaw in Bihar or spending time with the characters from GalliGalli SimSim teaching kids how to stay healthy through handwashing, the common thread is the warmth shown by each and every Indian we have met. I have also enjoyed playing basketball all over India - with young girls at a Muslim college in Lucknow, with aspiring players at a YMCA in Delhi, and shooting baskets on the famous TV show "Walk the Talk"!

app2us: What are your plans for reinforcing the strong educational ties between India and the US?
Ambassador Roemer: Educational ties between India and the U.S. are already very strong - as I mentioned, India has over 100,000 students studying in the U.S., more than any other country.

There are several current programs that keep these ties so close. These range from the recently announced Obama-Singh Higher Education Initiative to the prestigious Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship Program. Both of these programs connect our colleges and improve faculty interaction. The Embassy has also sent hundreds of Indian high school students to study for a year in the U.S., and we're bringing more and more American students to India to study Hindi.

But we can do more. In a recent speech I gave focusing on education, I suggested four broad ideas for cooperation: partnerships between Indian and American community colleges, recruiting teachers and expanding teacher education programs within India to address the teacher shortage, more high tech initiatives for long-distance learning in poor and rural communities, and passage of the bill in Parliament that allows foreign universities to partner and locate in India.

app2us: Your predecessors Ambassador Blackwill and Ambassador Mulford launched many visa reforms in India. Starting February 1, you have launched a new online visa application. What are the other visa reforms you are planning?
Ambassador Roemer: To be clear, updates to the visa application and review process are global and never specific to any one country, so those decisions are made in Washington.

Specific to India, though, we've greatly improved and continue to improve consular efficiencies, significantly reducing the visa appointment backlog. We've ramped up consulate staffing and have invested over $100 million in India alone to update and expand our consular facilities. Last year, we opened a new Consulate General in Hyderabad and are in the process of constructing a new consulate facility for Mumbai. We've also enhanced fraud prevention capabilities across India to protect applicants from unscrupulous touts and vendors.

app2us: India tops the list of countries from where students come to US for education. In what ways this is important for bilateral relations?
Ambassador Roemer: The relationship between India and the U.S. is based, more than anything else, on the relationships and personal connections between our citizens, and on our shared ideal that citizens have a right to choose their own government. Our citizens have so much in common, so much to offer each other, and studying in the U.S. is a great way to learn about the country and learn about its people and its culture firsthand. The bonds that are created during these formative years are lifelong. As we share ideas and develop the friendship between our people and our countries, these bonds - and our bilateral relationship - will continue to grow closer.

app2us: On March 15th, 2010, the cabinet of India cleared a bill, which if passed by the parliament will allow foreign universities to establish campuses and award degrees in India. What are your thoughts on the possibility of US universities setting up campuses in India?
Ambassador Roemer: U.S. universities setting up campuses in India allows talented students who cannot afford to travel to the U.S. or do not want to leave home at this time to get an American educational experience right here at home.

American universities are some of the best in the world - and so are India's. The possibilities for research collaboration, sharing of faculty and student exchanges are limitless.

app2us: [Question contributed by Ayan Sengupta, IIT Kharagpur, India] What is your message for Indian students planning to study in the US?
Ambassador Roemer: Have fun and travel around our country! Make sure you focus on your studies, of course, but don't forget to experience the culture and go exploring. Like India, the U.S. is a huge, fascinating country with an enormous diversity of people, so use your time to have experiences you can't have anywhere else. You only go to college once - make the most of it. And make sure you invest time in friendships - those last a lifetime.

app2us: Indian media covers a lot of news about American politics, films and events. Yet very few Indians get to understand the life, values and struggles of an average American. What can be done to enhance understanding between the people of the two great democracies?
Ambassador Roemer: Nothing can increase understanding better than face-to-face interactions, and that's why both the U.S. and India sponsor exchanges and facilitate travel between our two great countries. The Indian people and the American people have a lot to offer each other, both culturally and economically, and you can see this in how many visitors travel back and forth every year - for tourism, business, and education.

Flying to the United States can be expensive, but there are scholarships and grants available to fund education and exchange trips. I encourage anyone interested to contact the United States India Educational Foundation (USIEF) or visit one of our American Centers or American Corners located around India and learn more about these programs.

app2us: Prime Minister Singh's recent visit to USA was a great success. When can Indians expect to welcome President Obama?
Ambassador Roemer: No date has been fixed yet, but President Obama is eager to visit India and will likely come sometime this year. Many US presidents have traveled to India in a second term - we look forward to an early visit and an exciting one.

app2us: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador, our readers would be delighted to know your views. We wish you great success in India.

We, at, express our gratitude to Ambassador Roemer for talking to us. We also thank Ms. Elizabeth N. Fitzsimmons, Spoksperson at the US Embassy in New Delhi, and other embassy officials for their help in the interview process.

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