India, U.S. diplomatic row escalates over arrest of Indian diplomat

Dec. 17, 2013 at 11:11 PM   |   0 comments

NEW DELHI, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- An India-U.S. diplomatic row over the arrest and treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York escalated sharply with New Delhi taking retaliatory steps.

The diplomatic dispute stems from the arrest last week of Devyani Khobragade, 39, the Indian deputy consul general in New York, by New York authorities. She has been accused of submitting false documents for a work visa for her female housekeeper and paying the worker far below the local minimum wage. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Irate Indians said Khobragade was humiliated by being handcuffed near the school where she had gone to drop off her daughter and later strip-searched. One senior Indian official called her treatment "despicable and barbaric," Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

Indian officials also say Khobragade's diplomatic immunity was violated and that she was put in a holding cell along with drug addicts. The diplomat, who remains free on a $250,000 bail, could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on the visa fraud and making false statements charges.

CNN quoted the U.S. Marshals Service as saying Khobragade was strip-searched after her arrest and was kept in a cell with other females. The USMS also said it followed standard procedure and that no policies were violated in her case.

Meanwhile, Indian politicians representing various parties were seen on television channel venting their outrage over the incident. Media reports Tuesday also said security concrete blocks were moved from around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

Other retaliatory steps included taking away the identifications cards of U.S. diplomats in India that afford them diplomatic benefits and refusal of some senior Indian officials and ministers refusing to meet with a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

The Hindustan Times reported India also stopped most imports by the U.S. Embassy and called for details of salaries paid to Indian staff and domestic help.

CNN quoted Deputy Indian External Affairs Minister Preneet Kaur as saying: "I think we have taken a tough stand. We do protect our foreign service officers and any other Indian that is unfairly treated outside."

The situation has arisen at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama has been trying to strengthen relations with India. India's role is seen as critical as the United States rebalances in the Asia-Pacific region.

The importance of the relations between the world's two largest democracies was noted by a U.S. State Department official Tuesday when discussing the current diplomatic row, which she termed as an "isolated episode."

Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the United States and India "enjoy a broad and deep friendship, and this isolated episode is not in any way indicative of the close and respectful ties that we share and will continue to share."

Harf also said the department has conveyed at high levels in the Indian government that the United States expects that New Delhi will continue to fulfill all of its obligations under the Vienna Convention and that the "safety and security of our diplomats and consular officers in the field is a top priority."

Khobragade apparently had "consular immunity," which under the Vienna Convention apparently is not as high as "diplomatic immunity."

Harf said while the diplomat's issue was being dealt with by U.S. Marshals, "we don't want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship."

Topics: Barack Obama
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