HYDERABAD: Jennifer Larson, who recently took over as Consul General in Hyderabad, is no stranger to India, having served as Deputy Consul General in Mumbai for four years. As a diplomat, he has served as director of affairs and acting DAS for India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. Previously, he was the spokesperson for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
Larson also served as senior officer in Benghazi, Libya, and then as acting deputy chief of mission in Tripoli, and previously in various capacities in Pakistan, France, Sudan, Jerusalem and Lebanon.
Before joining the US Foreign Service, he worked as a talk show producer after studying Comparative Literature (Arabic, Spanish and French) and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
He was only active with the Deccan Chronicle, his first interview with any English-language media organization after assuming his new role. Summaries
How does the United States of America view the border dispute between India and China?
A. The US has been adamant for over 60 years that we see Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India. We certainly hope that India and China will continue to use the various diplomatic and communication channels available to resolve any differences. We are seeing many rounds and rounds of talks between the two nations, but we believe that the land belongs to India. We need moderation on all hands.
How do you see India’s role and the relationship between the US and India in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in a larger global context?
A. We consider the Indo-Pacific region and the focus on it very central, especially in recent years since the Biden Administration has taken charge of our entire strategic vision. There have been many actions and discussions in Washington, and I have been part of some of them.
India is at the apex and core of this strategy, whether through the Quad or through bilateral relations. We see our relationship with India as a strategic partnership between two great democracies with shared values and strong ties. A foundation is a powerful people-to-people relationship, whether it’s students, tech workers, or companies.
How’s the Quad going?
A. The Quad continues to strengthen and its strength is an informal group of four nations that come together when needed to address different issues. We continue to meet and discuss, be it strategic issues, defense issues, illegal fishing and many other concerns. In fact, recently Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, announced the Quad Scholarships, and we hardly had to work hard to get Indian students interested, with over a thousand applicants for the 30-odd scholarships.
After taking charge of the US Consul General for the Hyderabad region, how do you see our bilateral relationship, and the role and contribution of this region (consisting of the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha) in the larger connection?
The bilateral relationship is very strategic and strong. We approach everything as two partners with shared values. In particular, relations are growing largely in defense cooperation. Trade between us has increased eightfold in the last 20 years, but it only shows the scale of our relationship, not all the nuances. For example, the number of companies in the United States and their growth, or the number of Indian investors who want to do business in the US, etc.
The business between our two countries is best represented in this region. There are a number of state and city level business delegations from the US, and we help them explore opportunities in this region, particularly in Hyderabad. The Telangana government is great to work with, with their proactive policies and support in attracting investment.
As everyone knows, Hyderabad is home to many of the largest US companies from technology to defense, and their presence here is one of the largest in the world outside the US. We are excited to see you as a leader in showcasing diversity and green technology.
As part of our commitment to the region, we are building one of the largest facilities in Hyderabad, which is almost ready and I expect to move around April, certainly in the first half of 2023. Of course, we will need more. time to fill the staff, but it should further strengthen our bonds.
As of October, 40 percent of Indian student visa applicants this year were from the Telugu states, and I didn’t know this, but Telugu is the fastest growing language in America. I would have thought it would be Chinese or Arabic, but it’s Telugu. It speaks for our ties, historically and going forward.
How are the cultural and people exchange programs and connections?
A. We will carry out many actions in the future, in the post-pandemic phase. We will start cultural relations, we had this jazz concert some time ago, but more will happen in a month. We have also restarted people-to-people exchanges under the International Visiting Leadership Program, a State Department initiative to send leaders from around the world on short-term study visits to the United States. But I hope more American students will come to India and this region to benefit from its rich culture and diversity.
A concern for students, their families, tech workers, business people, and others who want to travel to the US for personal reasons are long visa lines and waiting lines? When can we expect them to be more normal?
A. Right now we are in the middle of one of the student visa seasons. We are giving it a high priority, and if you visit the Consulate, you will see long lines of students. We have given them priority, in the last year we have issued more than 127,000 student visas. It tells you how committed we are and we will continue to do so.
For business and H-1B visas, we are trying to achieve a more manageable timeline, and by the end of June we hope to have our national workforce back to pre-pandemic levels. For Hyderabad, we are opening this new facility in this wonderful compound in the Financial District, which will allow us to offer extended Visa services to this region.
Finally, how has he adjusted while settling down here in Hyderabad? How was the food experience?
It’s been a few months since I’ve been here, some of my art is here, my pet cat is here too. So I’m settling. Hyderabad has been wonderful. It has exceptional bookstores, art galleries and heritage walks in the Old Town. But it is a city that slowly reveals itself, layer by layer.
I’m a huge foodie. So far they have had wonderful food experiences in people’s homes as well as restaurants. The best was this food kitchen in the Old Town, run by the girls we work with, SAFA’s Luqma Kitchen, who were trained to take advantage of new opportunities. Dosti parathas, shami kebabs and this amazing lamb shorba – if I could learn to cook it, I would be so proud.