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All diplomats get a Devyani warning; efforts on to cool heat on both sides

Talks begin: Efforts on to cool heat; no dropping case,says State Dept

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
December 21, 2013 3:06:28 am

Indian and American officials launched efforts Friday to find a way out of their diplomatic spat over the alleged mistreatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade even as New Delhi alerted its officials in the US,who have Indian domestic helps,to be on their guard.

The moves were in contrast to the strong words from Washington on Thursday evening when the US State Department rejected India’s demand to drop visa fraud charges against Khobragade and apologise for allegedly mistreating her,saying the allegations were “very serious” and she would not be allowed to go scot-free.

However,on Friday,after four days of high-decibel protests and muscle-flexing,External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid struck a conciliatory note by terming bilateral ties as “valuable” and expressed hope that the two sides will find a “solution”. US embassy officials,led by ambassador Nancy Powell,held long meetings with MEA officials after the phone conversation between Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman Thursday night.

It is learnt that “specific steps” are being discussed between the two sides after the US State Department distanced itself from US attorney Preet Bharara’s tough comments made in connection with the case.

Khobragade,sources said,applied for accreditation to the UN Wednesday evening following her transfer to India’s permanent mission there and the UN has to accredit her now.

After the accreditation,the US State Department will be informed about the change in her diplomatic status and the US administration has to issue her its accreditation card,giving her “full diplomatic immunity”. However,this entire process is expected to take at least two weeks due to the Christmas break.

The sources also said that Indian officials in the US had been alerted about their domestic helps from India as a precautionary measure because of the apprehension that voluntary groups may try to find more examples of payment disparities.

Talking to reporters on Friday,Khurshid said India and the US need to keep in mind the entire gamut of bilateral ties while dealing with the Khobragade case and hoped the matter will be resolved despite the US refusing to accept New Delhi’s demand to withdraw the charges against Khobragade.

Bilateral ties,Khurshid said,were “valuable” and India was conscious of this while dealing with the “hurtful” and “unacceptable” treatment meted out to its diplomat in New York.

“I am conscious of the fact that this is a valuable relationship between two countries. A relationship in which enormous investments have been made not just by governments alone,but by the private sector,by groups of individuals,by organisations,and I think when we deal with each other we have to keep that entire gamut of different dimensions of our relationship in mind,” he said.

“I think that goes for both of us. We are conscious of this. I am sure they are equally conscious of this. We think it is important to preserve that relationship. I am sure they think as well that it is important to preserve the relationship,” he said.

“The only question is what you do when something happens that is irksome,that is hurtful,that is unacceptable. We are going to find a solution. And I hope that we will find a solution,” he said.

Sujatha Singh said the US should extend courtesies to Indian diplomats on par with what their American counterparts enjoy in India. On India’s reaction,Singh said the country has always shown “spine” to protect national interests.

Calls for “cool thinking” also came from former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao,who was also India’s envoy in Washington until last month. “We need cool thinking on both sides to defuse the situation. Tit-for-tat butter for fat cannot solve matters. Diplomacy can’t be conducted in an amphitheater. Neither government’s hand should be seen to be forced. Say no to hyperventilation,” she tweeted.

Rao said the treatment meted out to Khobragade was “wrong,disproportionate,and shocking in extreme. Condemnable. Since she was an accredited diplomat,Embassy should have been informed about impending move to arrest her. Stealth was ill advised.”

Earlier,State Department spokesperson Marie Harf had said that the immunity sought for Khobragade after her transfer to India’s Permanent Mission to the UN is “not retroactive”.

“We take these allegations very seriously. We’re not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges. Again,this is really a law enforcement issue,” Harf had said.

The spokesperson replied in the negative when asked whether the Deputy Consul General in New York,arrested on December 12,would be allowed to go “scot-free”.

“I don’t know the details of the complaint,and I don’t know if even withdrawing the complaint,which I’m not saying anybody is considering would,in fact,drop the charge. That’s not something that’s even being considered,” she had said.

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