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New Delhi sought to ‘tamp’ down furore over arrest and strip-search India applies to UN to try solve diplomat crisis

NEW DELHI, Dec 21, (Agencies): India sought to tamp down Saturday 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 Dec 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 two countries’ ties have warmed considerably since they were on opposite sides of the fence during the Cold War. They now participate in joint security exercises and Washington sees India as a valuable strategic partner in the troubled region. But 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 has asked the United Nations to accredit a New Yorkbased diplomat who was arrested for visa fraud, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis with the United States over her treatment by US authorities. A UN spokesman said the organization had received an official request from New Delhi to accredit Devyani Khobragade as a member of India’s permanent UN mission in what seemed to be a move to give her a stronger form of diplomatic immunity. 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 speaking on Saturday, said the two countries should not allow the issue to “cast a long shadow” on their bilateral ties.

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