Diplomat's arrest: Stand-off on as US rejects Indian demand

New Delhi/Washington, Dec 20 : India and the US seemed to be back to square one in probably their worst diplomatic spat over the arrest of an Indian diplomat with Washington rejecting a key demand to drop the charges against her.

India, which has demanded an apology from the US for its treatment of envoy Devyani Khobragade, Friday indicated a softening of stance, saying it was important to preserve ties with the US and both sides were working to find a solution to the diplomatic row.

The US, even as it described the relationship with India as "incredibly important" Thursday made clear it had no plans to drop the charges of visa fraud against Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, to de-escalate the situation.

Any suggestion the State Department would be putting pressure on New York's US Attorney Preet Bharara to drop the charges "is not true," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters in Washington when asked about such a possibility.

It was not for the State Department "to support or not support" Khobragade's prosecution, she said. "That's a decision for law enforcement and the judicial process to make."

"We certainly take these types of allegations very seriously though," Harf said. "So certainly, there's no discussion like that going on. We just want the process to move forward."

In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said he is in touch with his US counterpart and would come to "a logical conclusion" over Khobragade's arrest.

"My lead duty and entitlement is to be in conversation with my counterpart John Kerry, the US secretary of state. Lower than that there is also contact with the State Department and the foreign secretary," Khurshid told reporters.

He added: "I do believe that so long we are in conversation and do meaningful conversation, we will get our conversation to logical conclusion and there is an outcome one way or the other."

Khobragade has been transferred to India's Permanent Mission at the UN in New York in a bid to provide her fuller diplomatic immunity. But Harf said immunity "is not retroactive."

The State Department had "not yet received an official request through proper channels for re-accreditation," said Harf.

In New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said: "You do not treat an Indian diplomat in this manner, whether it is in the US or any other country. We expect our diplomat to be given exactly the same courtesies that we extend to American diplomats or diplomat of any other country."

Khobragade has been charged with visa fraud and underpaying her house maid. She has denied the charges.

Kerry called National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon Wednesday night to express regret over the mess-up. Thursday, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman called Sujatha Singh during which they discussed specific steps to resolve the situation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has termed as "deplorable" the humiliating arrest, strip and cavity search of Khobragade and is learnt to have directed officials to ensure "full resolution" of the issue.

--IANS (Posted on 20-12-2013)

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