US expresses regret over arrest, strip-search of Indian diplomat Khobragade

Washington/New Delhi, Dec. 19 : The United States has expressed regret over the way Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was treated when she was arrested in New York last week.

In telephone call to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed the hope that this isolated episode would not harm the close and mutually respectful ties between the two countries.

Simultaneously, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed about the issue.

Khobragade, India's Deputy Indian Consul General in New York, was subjected to handcuffing and cavity searches during her detention for alleged violation of U.S. visa laws last Thursday.

U.S. Under Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Windy Sherman also spoke to Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and is reported to have conveyed Washington's apology over the arrest and ill-treatment of the Indian diplomat.

Khobragade has been shifted to India's Permanent Mission to the UN, which will enable her to get fuller diplomatic immunity.

Earlier, New Delhi strongly contested the allegations levelled against Khobragade and protested against her arrest and strip search by U.S. Marshals.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the arrest and ill treatment meted out to Khobragade as deplorable, and hoped that the United States would understand India's loud and clear message on the issue.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament that the government fully stands by Khobragade and will bring her back and restore her dignity.

The Indian Government had, on Tuesday, announced several steps to strip American diplomats and their families of privileges, including withdrawing all airport passes and stopping import clearances for the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. was also asked to provide a list of all Indian nationals working with its Consulates, including domestic servants, by December 23. Security barricades outside the embassy consulates and other institutions under the jurisdiction of the embassy was also removed.

Khurshid maintained that Khobragade was a victim of a conspiracy created by her maid servant Sarah Richards, who has been absconding.

Despite all efforts by New Delhi, police in New York has not been able to trace Richards till now, and Khurshid suspected that the maid was set up by conspirators under a definite plan to humiliate the diplomat.

He said the immediate concern of the government is that no further indignity is meted out to Khobragade.

The government, he said, is following all legal procedures to deal with the situation.

Referring to the anger and anguish expressed by the members, Khurshid assured them that the government would not let them down.

He said the adverse U.S. action would be repulsed in the strongest possible manner.

Khurshid said the paramount concern of the government is to intervene effectively and strongly to protect Khobragade's dignity and honour.

He also assured the House that the diplomat will be brought back to India with all respect and every action would be taken to restore her dignity and modesty.

Earlier, India had said the safety and security of diplomats, including those from America, would not be compromised.

The MEA has reiterated New Delhi's demand for Washington to treat the Khobragade case strictly as per the Vienna Conventions.

Responding to ANI's question as to India's exact position on the Vienna Conventions, MEA spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said: "The Vienna Conventions are global conventions to which all countries are committed. For diplomats like us, they are the shield and armour which protect us. Let there be no doubt that India is fully committed to implementing the Vienna Conventions."

"We understand our obligations and our rights under the Vienna Conventions, and we will implement them fully and also ask for their implementation fully," he added.

When asked whether there was a possibility of the security of American diplomats and staff being compromised as a result of the removal of security barriers in front the U.S. Embassy, consulates and other institutions within the jurisdiction of the embassy, Akbaruddin said: " "Let me assure you that there is no change in the security situation as regards any diplomats in India, including US diplomats. India is fully committed to ensuring the safety and security of all diplomats in Delhi and elsewhere."

"So, please do not have any doubt on that score. We will provide full safety and security within the confines Indian law," he added.

Earlier this week, political leaders cut across party lines to refuse to meet a U.S. Congress delegation till the diplomatic row is resolved.

Senior leaders like Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi have refused to meet the U.S. Congress delegation.

National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon cancelled meetings in Delhi with the delegation. Menon has described Khobragade's treatment as "despicable and barbaric."

Devyani's father, Uttam Khobragade, a former IAS officer, said: "My daughter is brave, but I am worried. There is more than what meets the eye. She has not done anything wrong."

Devyani Khobragade, 39, was arrested on Thursday. She has been accused of lying on the visa application for an Indian national who worked at her home from November 2012 to June 2013 for less than four dollars an hour.

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

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