Wary US delays first India visit of new Asst Secy of State

The meeting is expected to discuss at length shale gas exports,among other issues.

Written by PranabDhalSamanta | New Delhi | Published:January 3, 2014 3:58 am

In a possible fallout of the diplomatic spat triggered by the arrest of IFS officer Devyani Khobrgade in New York,the United States has delayed the first India visit of its new Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia considering almost every politician and official refused to meet the last US delegation that came calling.

While there is no official word from either side on the issue,sources confirmed that the new Assistant Secretary,Neha Desai Biswal,a person of Indian origin,was expected here on January 6 on her first official visit.

However,Washington chose to postpone it,indicating that it may now happen in the week after,it is learnt.

Biswal,who in rank is equivalent to the joint secretary dealing with the US in the MEA,is the points person in the State Department for the Indian embassy in Washington and was possibly handling all communication related to the Khobragade issue.

Last month,a bi-partisan US Congressional delegation visiting India found itself on the receiving end as their pre-scheduled meetings were cancelled at the last minute,prompted by the anger over Khobragade’s arrest and strip-search.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar,Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi,BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon,among others,called off their meetings with the delegation.

Washington,sources said,could have feared that Biswal may not get the official meetings to familiarise herself given the combative mood in South Block. Also,this week is crucial for the case as Washington is expected to take a call on giving Khobragade the G-1 visa — which would give her full diplomatic immunity — after she was posted to India’s permanent Mission in the United Nations in New York.

As of now,the US side is said to have indicated that Biswal may still visit around January 13,but clearly the air of uncertainty following the diplomatic stand-off over Khobragade’s arrest is threatening to impact scheduled bilateral interactions.

The first major meeting in the new year is the Energy Dialogue between Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz,scheduled for January 15-16.

The meeting is expected to discuss at length shale gas exports,among other issues. This will be Moniz’s first visit to India.

By all indications,attempts to resolve the row are currently centred on restoring Khobragade’s diplomatic immunity. Once that is done,the Indian side feels she has a strong case in court although the effort is to still try and get charges against her dropped.

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