Mathai takes charge as Foreign Secretary



New Delhi: Seasoned diplomat Ranjan Mathai on Monday took over as new Foreign Secretary, terming as main challenge maintenance of "constructive cooperation" in the immediate neighbourhood and said his mandate was to restore "trust and confidence" in Indo-Pak relations.

A 1974-batch IFS officer, Mathai, who succeeded Nirupama Rao, said he was honoured to take up the assignment which is a "very complex one and full of many challenges" and building "cooperative and strong relationships with all the major global players" would be amongst his key priorities.

On Indo-Pak relations, 59-year-old Mathai, who will have a two-year fixed tenure, said the mandate for the Foreign Secretary is to pave the way for a "substantive dialogue" with Pakistan on all issues.

"We have to try and work to restore trust and confidence. This is the mandate which has been given to me. Foreign Secretary is as much an institution as an individual. So I will continue this effort, continuity will be my watch word," he told reporters after taking charge.

On whether composite dialogue is the 'right way' between India and Pakistan, the Foreign Secretary said, "The mandate is substantive dialogue on all issues of common concern" and he looked forward to cooperating with the Pakistan Foreign Secretary on this.

Mathai, who has served in Indian missions in Vienna, Colombo, Washington, Tehran and Brussels, said India should develop "strong and cooperative relationship" with all global players. "We need to keep in mind the need for very, very strong relations with countries in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, South East Asia and the Gulf region," he said.

Rao has been appointed India's Ambassador to the US.

In dealing with foreign policy challenges, Mathai said one has to take a holistic view of the political, strategic, economic, commercial, cultural and public aspects.

He said, "We are in a world of flux and we have to be innovative and adapt to the situation as it develops. But at the same time, we have to be clear about what are our national priorities and interests, many of which remain permanent."

The new Foreign Secretary also stressed the importance of public services of the Ministry of External Affairs saying he would like to give "considerable priority" to passport and consular services. "I think this is an area that needs particular importance," he said.

He said the ministry has to be administered according to regulations and there is a management system which has to be addressed while keeping in mind the morale of the personnel.

After completing post graduate studies in political science at the University of Poona, Mathai joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1974.

As Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi between January 1995 to February 1998, he headed the division dealing with India's relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives.

He also served as Indian Ambassador to Israel from February 1998 to June 2001 and was the Indian envoy in Qatar from August 2001 to July 2005.

He held the post of Deputy High Commissioner of India in the UK from August 2005 to January 2007.

PTI