India-US diplomatic standoff continues

New Delhi/Washington, Dec 18 : The India-US diplomatic standoff continued Wednesday with New Delhi refusing to relent on its demand for "unconditional apology" from the US for alleged mistreatment of its consular official even as the US stuck to its guns saying it acted "appropriately and demanded restoration of security for its missions in India".

Amid rising tensions over the arrest and "barbaric" treatment of Devyani Khobragade, 39, India's deputy consul general in New York, Indian MPs expressed outrage over her strip-search, cavity search, being swabbed for DNA and being kept among criminals. The government said it will intervene "effectively and specifically" to ensure her return.

Khobragade was arrested last week for allegedly underpaying her nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the US. She was released on a $250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

Members of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid condemned the US action. Khurshid said the treatment meted out to Khobragade had "not happened out of the blue" and there is a "history" behind it.

He asserted the government is determined and "will intervene effectively and specifically to ensure dignity of the diplomat is preserved."

The demand for unconditional release and taking back all charges came even as Khobragade was shifted to India's permanent UN mission in New York where she will enjoy full diplomatic immunity that her consular status did not provide.

India also denied its move to remove barricades around the US embassy in New Delhi would in any way impact the security of the mission, saying there was adequate security in place, including a police picket and patrolling.

The police barricades on Nyaya Marg in New Delhi's diplomatic enclave had come up following the 9/11 attacks in the US. Tuesday, the police barricades were removed, while the police picket remained.

The move was in "reciprocity" to US authorities in Washington depriving the Indian embassy of its diplomatic parking lot a year ago. The Indian embassy in Washington had made numerous requests to get the parking lot restored but to no avail.

India is known to be very angry that the US authorities failed to observe diplomatic protocol by failing to even inform the head of India's New York mission about orders given for the arrest of Khobragade last week. She was "picked off the street", handcuffed in public, and put through body search and kept with common criminals.

US officials Tuesday spoke of a "broad and deep friendship" and an "important relationship" with India, but expressed no regret, leave aside an "unconditional apology" demanded by India.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said "an isolated episode" should not "impact the bilateral relationship.

Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor, addressing a press conference at the Indian Women Press Corps here, said the treatment meted to Khobragade was "an outrageous violation and not something we expect from a friendly nation... It is not a friendly act. But the fundamental relations between us is not under question."

India's National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon called the treatment "despicable and barbaric."

--IANS (Posted on 18-12-2013)

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