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Top US official meets political leadership in Kathmandu amid Chinese inroads

Senior US official Donald Lu with Nepal's Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba

Visiting United States Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, held a string of meetings with Nepal’s top leaders to shape the agenda of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s likely visit to Washington.  

In an unexpected visit, the US official arrived here on Thursday and returned later on Friday.

The visit comes five days after Kathmandu officially communicated to the United States regarding its decision to stay away from the State Partnership Programme (SPP)– an integral part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pushed by Washington, which aims to contain China militarily.

Amid heated debate over the US Army's SPP, the Nepali government on June 21 decided to back away from the initiative, fearing that the country could be drawn into an anti-China military alliance under the Indo Pacific Strategy.

However, officials are tight-lipped over whether the US official raised the issue of SPP with Prime Minister Deuba and foreign minister Khadka in his meetings on Friday.

Addressing a session of Nepali parliament on Friday itself, foreign minister Khadka said that a letter was dispatched to the US government on July 25 through diplomatic channels informing that Nepal would not move ahead with the SPP. 

"The government of Nepal is very clear that Nepal won't be part of any military alliance by going against its long-standing policy of non-alignment and Panchsheel. Accordingly, we have sent a letter to the US government that we are no longer part of the SPP," the minister told the parliamentarians.

Citing government and military officials, Nepali media reports recently said that the US side was pushing for some kind of military pact under the State Partnership Program with Nepal.

During today's meetings, the two sides discussed a range of issues including 75 years of U.S.-Nepal economic cooperation, exchange of high-level visits, human rights, security and people-to-people ties, according to officials familiar with the development.

Govinda Pariyar, a press advisor to the prime minister, said that Prime Minister Deuba's potential visit to the United States was one of the various topics that the two sides discussed on Friday.

"The prime minister also thanked for the continued development cooperation and said that he was looking forward to a higher level of economic engagements with the US," Pariyar told India Narrative.

On his part, Lu said the US side was eager to welcome the Nepali prime minister in Washington and further enhance  ties between the two countries that began in 1948.

According to Pariyar, the two sides have yet to finalize the exact dates for the prime minister's sojourn to Washington.

In his meeting with Prime Minister Deuba, the US official also vowed to invest millions of dollars through private financing thereby creating job opportunities for thousands of Nepali youths.

On Friday itself, Lu met Nepali foreign minister Khadka—during which—the two sides discussed various areas of engagements, including development cooperation, economic support, food security and COVID-19 vaccines, according to Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The US official praised Nepal's commitment to human rights and democracy, recalling that Prime Minister Deuba took part virtually in the Summit for Democracy hosted by President Joe Biden in November last year, an official at the ministry said.

Also Read: Top US official arriving in Nepal on Thursday amid growing US – China rivalry