May 18, 2001
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Veritable love fest at Rocca's confirmation

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

It was a veritable love-fest in Room 419 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building on Thursday when President George W Bush's nominee to be the next assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Christina Rocca, made her first public appearance since her nomination more than a month ago.

Rocca's immediate ex-boss, Senator Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, before whom she was appearing, gushed over how much they were going to miss her, but how honoured they felt that one of their own, in a sense, had been picked for this important position.

Brownback, for whom Rocca worked as chief foreign policy aide since 1997 after spending 15 years with the Central Intelligence Agency in its operations directorate -- the cloak-and-dagger arm of the spy agency -- said, "It is with mixed feelings that I host this hearing today as I will be losing a very good friend that I have been working with for several years."

He described Rocca as a person with "singular leadership" and told her that "you represent the best the US has to offer", predicting that sure as tomorrow follows today, she would "do a great job".

"I know that I speak for all our members and staff. We are so sorry to see you go, but I hope you know we are all so very honoured by your success and grateful for your counsel and friendship over the years," Brownback said.

The lawmaker, whose legislation calling for the removal of sanctions against India and Pakistan were authored by Rocca, said, "I look forward to both of these continuing (and) it's with a degree of certitude that you will keep the views of this committee in mind."

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, turning to the visibly emotional Brownback, joked, "Who's going to write your speeches now?"

The committee room erupted in more laughter when Biden added, "As a matter of fact, some of us are worried about Senator Brownback's ability to continue," to which the latter weakly protested, "Knock it off, Joe."

Then it was Biden's turn to gush and he went on to describe Rocca as a class act and the quintessential 'gentle-lady'.

He spoke of the great respect he had for Rocca. "There is a personal affection for you not only because you've done a tremendous job", but also "as you've been a real lady, the way you treated everyone of us of here."

"We are so proud that someone of this committee, of your stature has been picked for such an important position and we look forward to working with you," Biden added.

Earlier, in her opening remarks, Rocca said, "Mr Chairman, now is the moment that nominees traditionally tell you and the other members of their commitment, if confirmed, to co-operate closely with this committee and with Congress to further US interests. But if you will indulge a digression, I think it is safe to say that you know just how closely I hope to work with the committee -- its members and its staff -- in the coming years."

She reminisced that "for the past five and a half years, I have had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the room behind the chairman of this subcommittee. I will say what a wonderful opportunity it has been -- an unequalled learning experience with wonderful people and a unique opportunity to make a difference."

"But the most honest thing I have to confess is that I have been lucky enough to have fun. A lot of fun," Rocca disclosed.

Whether her tenure as the point person for a region that is one of the most turbulent in the world today will be as much fun or an exercise in futility is anybody's guess.

Rocca rates Taleban biggest threat to South Asia

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