Talks with Washington on to defuse crisis

December 22, 2013 - 8:57:50 am

Supporters of Communist Party of India scuffle with policemen during a protest near the American Centre in New Delhi yesterday.

NEW DELHI: India sought to tamp down yesterday a furore over the arrest and strip-search of one of its diplomats in New York, insisting the episode should not be allowed to derail “strong” ties with the United States.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said a dialogue with Washington was under way to defuse the crisis sparked by the 48-hour detention of deputy consular general Devyani Khobragade on December 12.

“Our relationship is that of partners. Our mutual relations are very strong,” Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi. “I believe people in both the countries wouldn’t want the old ties we share to get unsettled by this one incident,” he said 

“I speak to America through diplomatic channels and my diplomatic channels have been interrupted. That is my concern,” he added.

At the same time, Khurshid warned that the United States “must understand the value of (their) partnership”. Nonetheless, Khurshid’s tone was milder than on Friday when he termed the treatment of 39-year-old Khobragade by US Marshals “hurtful” and “unacceptable”.

The world’s two largest democracies have been at loggerheads since the arrest of Khobragade, who said she was handcuffed and subjected to an invasive body search. The diplomat, a mother of two, now free on bail, was arrested over accusations that she lied about the salary she was paying her Indian servant in a US visa application.

According to New York authorities, she was paying the domestic worker a third of the figure mentioned in the visa application.

But her treatment has caused outrage in India, with the government urging Washington to drop the case and apologise.

India is trying to secure stronger diplomatic immunity for Khobragade by shifting her to its UN mission in New York, although such a move needs State Department approval.

The Press Trust of India reported yesterday that the UN had received a notice from India to register Khobragade as a member of the Permanent Mission, adding the request would be processed according to “standard procedures”.

However, a spokeswoman for the State Department made clear in a briefing late this week that there could be no retroactive immunity for Khobragade.

“If there’s a change in immunity... because of a different diplomatic status, that immunity would start on the date it’s conferred,” Marie Harf said.

The government and opposition parties have taken a tough stand over the issue as they gear up for a general election next year.

Delhi has made a series of moves against the United States, bulldozing security barricades around the US embassy and snubbing a visiting US delegation.

US federal prosecutor Preet Bharara has insisted Khobragade was arrested in the “most discreet” way.

He said his sole motivation was to hold accountable anyone who breaks the law “no matter how powerful, rich or connected”.

Indian trade minister Anand Sharma, also said that the two countries should not allow the issue to “cast a long shadow” on their bilateral ties.

“We are not disengaging (from the United States). This engagement will grow stronger and issues (such as these) will not be allowed to cast a long shadow,” he said.

But anger in India over the issue was still visible yesterday with dozens of protesters in New Delhi demanding justice for Khobragade and shouting slogans against the United States.


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