Richard Verma in conversation with the late Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the latter testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on July 14, 2010
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images
September 19, 2014 12:42 AM EDT

Richard Verma was announced as the new U.S. ambassador to India on Thursday, according to a statement from the White House.

Verma, a former State Department official, will be the first Indian American to hold the post once he is confirmed by Congress. He has been associated with the Obama Administration since 2008, serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011, and is currently a senior counselor at law firm Steptoe & Johnson as well as the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Verma’s appointment comes just before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on Sept. 29, as Obama attempts to strengthen Indo-U.S. ties to counterbalance to China’s growing power. Modi was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 as chief minister of Gujarat, three years after communal riots killed over 1,000 people in his state.

The previous ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, resigned last year amid a controversy over the treatment of Indian diplomat Devayani Khobragade, who was reportedly arrested and strip-searched in New York City after being accused of underpaying a domestic worker and perpetrating visa fraud.

Verma will not be confirmed before November, however, as lawmakers begin campaigning for the Nov. 4 congressional elections over the next six weeks.

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