India, U.S. seek to end row over diplomat's arrest

Dec. 20, 2013 at 12:40 AM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- India and the United States sought to end their diplomatic row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat, noting bilateral relations need to move forward.

However, it was not clear how the latest demand of India to drop the case against its diplomat, Devyani Khobragarde, would be resolved as developments in the case continued to move at a fast pace.

Khobragarde, 39, deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York, was arrested last week and charged with submitting false documents for a work visa for her female housekeeper and paying the worker far below the local minimum wage. She pleaded not guilty and remained free on $250,000 bail. The case has stirred a massive diplomatic spat at a time when the two largest democracies are working hard to further strengthen their close strategic and economic ties.

As developments appeared to spin out of control, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry already has expressed his "regret" over the incident in a telephone talk with Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Monon.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said both sides are currently "working to move the relationship forward." In an earlier statement, Harf had described the incident as an "isolated episode."

Harf said as the two countries have a "broad and deep relationship," they are focused on "not letting this episode impact our relationship, and indeed, moving forward with it."

In New Delhi, India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who called for dropping the case against the diplomat, also noted: "Our relationship has a lot of investment, it is an irreversible matter and we have to deal with it sensibly," the Times of India reported.

Speaking to CNN-IBN television channel, Khurshid repeated the Indian demand for dropping the case, saying: "The Devyani case is unwanted. The first thing I want to do is to protect my diplomat. Whatever happened is unsatisfactory and extremely distressing." However, he went on to say: "This should not affect the Indo-U.S. relations. Let me first talk to John Kerry about the case, let's not create unprecedented scenarios."

On India's demand for dropping the charges against Khobragarde, Harf said the decision would not be "for us to support or not support," but would be decided by the law enforcement and judicial process.

There were also reports the Indian government has transferred Khobragarde to the Indian mission at the United Nations to upgrade her current "consular immunity" status to that of "diplomatic immunity" so there can be no prosecution.

Harf, however, said normally if there's a change in immunity, it would only start on the date it's conferred but would not be retroactive.

"So there's a process: It goes to the U.N. secretariat, comes to the U.S. State Department, everybody has to say yes. ... And then, if a different diplomatic status is conferred, it's conferred at that date," Harf said.

In other developments, following Kerry's telephone talk with the Indian official, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman talked via telephone with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

Harf described the Sherman-Singh talk as a "good conversation," adding, "We'll continue having conversations with the Indian government, certainly, as this process moves forward."

Earlier, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement Khobragarde was not in front of her children nor handcuffed as had been reported. Also contrary to reports, he said the diplomat was accorded courtesies "well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded."

But Bharara acknowledged Khobragarde "was fully searched by a female deputy marshal in a private setting," saying such practices are standard for "every defendant, rich or poor, American or not," to make sure no prisoner keeps anything that could harm anyone.

Topics: John Kerry
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