India-US standoff on diplomat continues, India terms it conspiracy

New Delhi/Washington, Dec 18 : The India-US diplomatic standoff continued Wednesday with New Delhi saying there was a "conspiracy" against its diplomat in New York, Devyani Khobragade, and lawmakers condemning the humiliating strip-search she was forced to undergo. The US stuck to its guns saying it acted "appropriately" and demanded restoration of security for its missions in India.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told parliament there was a "conspiracy" against Khobragade and asserted that she was innocent. He said India would bring back the 39-year-old diplomat and "restore her dignity. It is my responsibility".

"We strongly condemn the treatment meted out to the diplomat in New York. India is not over-reacting to the treatment to its diplomat by US. The nation must speak in one voice," the external affairs minister said.

Khobragade was strip-searched, cavity-searched and swabbed for DNA after her arrest in New York on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny. She was confined with criminals before being released on a $250,000 bail and made to surrender her passport. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Tuesday, in a tit-for-tat measure, India pared down the privileges given to US diplomats in India, including withdrawing diplomatic ID cards issued by it, taking away airport passes and withdrawing extra security barricades outside the US embassy.

India says the measures it has taken are based on reciprocity as Indian diplomats in consulates in the US are not given airport passes or other benefits. In fact, the diplomatic car parking area outside the Indian embassy in Washington was turned into a public parking area over a year ago and not returned to the Indian embassy despite reminders.

Khurshid said the US will understand India's message "loud and clear".

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the husband and two children of Khobragade's maidservant Sangeeta Richard have flown to New York. They arrived in New York Dec 10, two days before Khobragade's arrest last Thursday, in what is being considered a "distinctively odd" coincidence.

Richard went absconding in June in the US and the Indian embassy cancelled her official passport, but she continues to remain in the US. Richard is learnt to have demanded $10,000, an Indian passport and immigration clearance from Khobragade to enable her to stay on in the US in what is being termed as an "attempt at extortion".

India is demanding the unconditional release and taking back of all charges against Khobragade who 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's national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has called the treatment "despicable and barbaric".

India also denied that 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. On Tuesday, the police barricades were removed, while the police picket remained.

India said 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" and handcuffed in public.

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."

Adding a new dimension to the case, Harf also claimed that the State Department had advised the Indian embassy "in writing in September of allegations of abuse made by an Indian national against the deputy consul".

Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati raked up a controversy by saying the government reacted late in the case as Khobragade was a Dalit.

"I know I should not bring caste into this but the overall conduct with this girl was inappropriate. The central government reacted late because she was a Dalit," Mayawati said in the Rajya Sabha.

--IANS (Posted on 19-12-2013)

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