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S Jaishankar takes charge as foreign secretary, says it’s an honour

S Jaishankar on Thursday assumed charge as the new foreign secretary, replacing Sujatha Singh.

Jaishankar, who was India’s ambassador to the US, took office at 9:30 am.

After assuming the charge, Jaishankar said he was honoured to be assigned this “big” responsibility. Dodging media queries on priorities, the new Foreign Secretary said: “Government’s priorities are my priorities”.

In a sudden development, Sujatha Singh’s tenure was abruptly “curtailed” by nearly eight months on Wednesday.

Reacting to the development, Congress leader Manish Tewari questioned if the sacking of Sujatha Singh was related to Devyani Khorbode affair.

The surprise announcement was made after a meeting of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Singh’s two-year tenure was to end in August this year.

A late night official announcement said, “curtailment of tenure of Ms Sujatha Singh, IFS batch 1976 as FS with immediate effect”.

“Appointment of S Jaishankar, IFS batch 1977, as Foreign Secretary vice MS Sujatha Singh with a tenure of two years from the date of assumption of charge or until further orders, whichever is earlier, in keeping with the provisions of FR-56(D),” the announcement said.

The sudden appointment has echoes of the sudden replacement of India’s then foreign secretary AP Venkateswaran by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in January 1987.

Sujatha Singh had assumed office in August 2013 and was due to retire in August this year.

The surprise announcement came a day after US President Barack Obama left the country after a three-day visit during which, India and the US saw a breakthrough announcement on the stalled civil nuclear deal.

Obama was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the first US President to grace the occasion.

Jaishankar was one of the key officials who negotiated the nuclear deal with the US as joint secretary (Americas) from 2004 to 2007 in the Ministry of External Affairs.

He was previously the envoy to China before moving as envoy to the US.

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