In the first such meeting since the Devyani Khobragade incident rocked India-US relations last month, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Wednesday discussed with US Secretary of State John Kerry the need to put in place “institutional arrangements” regarding privileges and immunities of diplomats.
Devyani’s arrest and strip-search over low wages to her domestic help Sangeeta Richard has led the Indian government to retaliate and cut back on US diplomats’ privileges in the last one month.
During the meeting with Kerry on the sidelines of the Geneva II meeting on Syria being held in Montreux, Khurshid also expressed “concern” at the evacuation of Richard’s family from India, which was done by US embassy officials.
The Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement, “In view of the recent episode involving the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York, External Affairs Minister and the US Secretary of State recognised the need to put in place institutional arrangements to look at all outstanding issues relating to the privileges and immunities of diplomats of both countries so that such issues could be resolved in a timely manner.”
“The minister also underlined India’s concern over trafficking visas issued to Indian nationals by the US Embassy in India,” the statement said.
Reviewing the recent developments in India-US relations, they agreed that the bilateral relationship was “very important” for both countries.
Both sides looked forward to the “early realization of the mutually-agreed calendar of bilateral exchanges, including the visit of US Energy Secretary Moniz for the India-US Energy Dialogue and the visit of the Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, Dr Margaret Hamburg”.
The ongoing defence cooperation between India and the US was also mentioned during the discussion. “The two ministers agreed to remain in contact to follow up on the progress on these issues,” the MEA’s statement said.
In Washington, Indian ambassador S Jaishankar said the Devyani case was handled “appallingly” and needs to be resolved, but the US remains probably India’s most important ally. “I won’t underplay this incident, I won’t overplay this incident. I think we need to see it in perspective,” Jaishankar said in an interview. “I think we are in the midst of working this one out.”
Jaishankar said India was “perplexed” by the decisions of US authorities to arrest and strip-search the 39-year-old diplomat after she was accused of visa fraud and underpaying her maid. “There was a fair measure of anger about both the substance of the problem and the way it was handled,” he said. “It was not just done publicly; frankly it was done appallingly.”