Rao assumed her responsibilities as ambassador of India to the United States in September 2011, a position she held until November 2013. Prior to that, Rao was appointed foreign secretary, the highest office in the Indian Foreign Service, where she served a two-year term until July 2011. Rao was also India’s first female ambassador to China from 2006 to 2009. She has served previously in Washington as minister for press and cultural affairs at the Indian embassy from 1993 to 1995. She has also served in Moscow as deputy chief of mission at her country’s embassy there in the late 1990s. On return to New Delhi, she was designated as spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in 2001, the first woman to hold that post.
Rao joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. In a diplomatic career spanning four decades, she served in various world capitals, including Washington, Beijing, and Moscow. She acquired extensive experience in India-China relations, having served in the East Asia Division of the ministry at policy level capacities for several years. Her other ambassadorial assignments include Peru, Bolivia, and Sri Lanka, where also she was India’s first female high commissioner.