Thursday, December 19, 2013

US regrets ‘ill-treatment’ of Indian diplomat

File photo of Devyani Khobragade
NEW DELHI (AA) - The diplomatic row between India and US over the arrest of an Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud and underpayment to a maid took a positive turn when US Secretary of State John Kerry made a phone call on late Wednesday night to India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon expressing regret over the alleged ‘ill-treatment’ of 39-year old Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general.
Kerry reportedly told Menon that US is looking for a “positive outcome” of the diplomatic row and said “it should not have happened and will not happen again”.
Kerry said that US will not allow this unfortunate public spat to hurt its close and vital relationship with India.
“As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the Secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade’s arrest,” Marie Harf, US State Department spokesperson told reporters.
Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, spoke to India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh assuring to defuse the diplomatic crisis.
English-language news channel NDTV has described both conversations as “positive” and “conciliatory” quoting unnamed government sources.
However, Kamal Nath, India’s federal minister for Parliamentary Affairs, struck a defiant note and said on Thursday that US must apologize.
“We have made it clear that America has to apologize in the matter. They need to apologize and accept that they have made a mistake. Only then we will be satisfied."
It is unclear that Nath’s statement reflects India’s official position as there was no word from India’s Foreign Ministry whether it seeks a formal “apology” from the US.
In an unusual move, Preet Bharara, Indian-born US Attorney who prosecuted Khobragade released a statement in which he defended his actions and denied the charge of ill-treatment to the diplomat saying she was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants get.
Bharara claimed that Khobragade was arrested “discreetly” by State agents and not in front of her two young daughters on December 12. He also claimed that Khobragade was not “handcuffed” and searched by a female deputy marshal in private.
Bharara alleged that “misinformation and factual inaccuracy” in reporting has created “an inflammatory atmosphere”.
In an interview to a private news channel on Thursday, India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid dismissed claims of Bharara saying India does not deal with him but the US State Department.
“I think we should just stick to Secretary Kerry’s point of view - he represents the President’s policy vis-a-vis India,” Khurshid said acknowledging Kerry’s ‘regret’ over the alleged mishandling of the diplomat.
Khurshid said he will be speaking to Kerry later on Thursday.
“I imagine there will be an opportunity for us to speak later in the day,” he said.
India on Wednesday transferred Khobragade to its permanent mission in United Nations in New York where she can apply for full diplomatic immunity.
Indian Prime Minister on Wednesday described the diplomat’s arrest and subsequent “ill-treatment” as “deplorable”.
India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid promised in Parliament that he will not return to the house if he failed in his responsibility to bring back the diplomat.
Earlier there was mass outrage in India on Wednesday as it transpired that US Delhi embassy granted expedited visas to the husband and two children of the maid Sangeeta Richard just two days before the arrest of the diplomat.
Media reports also spoke of Richard’s in-laws working for the American embassy in New Delhi which would suggest that contacts within the US diplomatic community would have come into play in her battle against the Indian diplomat.
Khobragade was allegedly paying Richard $3.11 per hour instead of the promised mandatory US wages of $9.75.
However, Indian officials portray a more complicated legal picture, saying that Richard has been absconding since June this year as the Delhi High Court had issued an interim injunction in September restraining her from instituting any actions or proceedings against Khobragad outside India according to the terms and conditions of her employment.
The Indian Embassy had requested the US government to locate Richard and facilitate the implementation of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

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