NEW YORK, Dec 21 (Reuters) – India has asked the United Nations to accredit a New York-based diplomat who was arrested for visa fraud, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis with the United States over her treatment by U.S. authorities who strip searched her. A U.N. spokesman said the organisation had received an [...]

Sunday Times 2

India, US in diplomatic jugglery over Devyani

New Delhi applies to UN to try to solve diplomat crisis

NEW YORK, Dec 21 (Reuters) – India has asked the United Nations to accredit a New York-based diplomat who was arrested for visa fraud, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis with the United States over her treatment by U.S. authorities who strip searched her.
A U.N. spokesman said the organisation had received an official request from New Delhi to accredit Devyani Khobragade as a member of India’s permanent U.N. mission in what seemed to be a move to give her a stronger form of diplomatic immunity.

Khobragade’s arrest has enraged India, which is demanding that all charges be dropped against her. Indian protesters ransacked a Domino’s Pizza in a Mumbai suburb in anger at her detention this month for visa fraud and underpayment of her housekeeper.

She was strip searched at a U.S. District Court building in downtown Manhattan and placed in a holding cell. As India’s deputy consul general in New York, she only had limited diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

Devyani Khobragade. Pic Reuters

Indian media said the request to transfer her to the United Nations was aimed at ending the stand-off with the United States in the hopes that Khobragade’s new diplomatic status could allow New Delhi to bring her home without facing charges.

Diplomatic sources said that broader immunity could make it harder to follow through on a prosecution against her.

One possible scenario to solve the crisis would be that she receives full diplomatic immunity in her U.N. post if the State Department approves her transfer. The U.S. government would then ask for her immunity to be removed so she can face prosecution. Assuming India refused, the State Department could then take steps to have her removed from the country.

In a similar recent case, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is prosecuting the envoy, charged dozens of Russian diplomats with healthcare fraud.

Unlike in Khobragade’s case, there was no dispute that they were immune from prosecution, but Bharara acknowledged this month the State Department could seek to remove those who remained in the country.

The State Department said on Friday it wanted to move beyond the matter of the Indian diplomat.

“We certainly fully agree that it’s important to preserve and protect our partnership. It’s not just about diplomatic ties,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, citing more than $90 billion in bilateral trade, close counterterrorism cooperation and engagement on a range of topics including Afghanistan.

“And we want to move beyond this, and I think we all recognise the importance of our long-term relationship,” she added.

Asked whether a change in her diplomatic immunity status could prevent Khobragade from being arrested again or enable her to leave the United States, Psaki said, “I don’t want to speculate on that.”

She said any change in the diplomat’s accreditation status would not provide a “clean slate from past charges.
Khobragade was arrested last week and released on $250,000bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper, also an Indian. She faces a maximum of15 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the case in a phone call to India’s national security adviser this week, but India is still demanding an apology. U.S. prosecutors have defended the investigation against Khobragade and her treatment.

Before this diplomatic blow-up, U.S.-Indian relations were seen as cordial and improving.

Police in Mumbai said they were stepping up patrols of major U.S. outlets including McDonald’s after workers of the small Republican Party of India attacked the Domino’s store. The group sent pictures to media organisations showing a broken glass door. No one was hurt in the attack.
The Indian diplomat’s father threatened to begin a fast if U.S. authorities press ahead with the case. In an unusual move, the United States has flown the family of the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, out of India.

“The fact is that (the) American authorities have behaved atrociously with an Indian diplomat. And obviously, America has to make good for its actions,” said Manish Tiwari, India’s minister for information and broadcasting.

“So therefore, I think it is a legitimate expectation, that if they have erred, and they have erred grievously in this matter, they should come forth and apologise.” Protesters also gathered at the U.S. consulate in Hyderabad for a second day on Friday, shouting slogans, local media said.

In New York, a few dozen protesters including several domestic workers from South and Southeast Asia gathered outside India’s consulate, chanting slogans and waving posters demanding that Khobragade’s diplomatic immunity be waived.

Furious that one of its foreign service officers had been handcuffed and treated like “a common criminal,” India this week removed security barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and withdrew some privileges from U.S. diplomats.

The reaction in India was even more intense because none of the political parties preparing for next year’s general election wanted to be seen as weak against a superpower.

Politicians, including the leaders of the two main parties, refused to meet a delegation of visiting U.S. lawmakers.

“Because of the election, they will try to outdo each other,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst and a former political editor of Indian Express newspaper.

“They don’t want to be seen as weak on the issue when the mood in the country is one of huge anger about this.” The party that runs India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, urged Khobragade to stand for parliament, highlighting how public outrage has turned the case into a battleground for votes.

Why India must stand its ground against US 

By Uttara Choudhury

New York: A lot can change in a day. The US went in 24 hours from regret and desire to look for a solution to telling India on Friday that Devyani Khobragade was not entitled to diplomatic immunity even in India’s UN mission in New York.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the full diplomatic immunity sought for Khobragade after her transfer to the UN mission is “not retroactive.”

If the US was interested in a solution it could have dropped the Khobragade case as India had covered its legal base. Instead the State Department has colluded with Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara who is bent on making an example of Khobragade. “We take these allegations very seriously. We’re not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said adding that this was “really a law enforcement issue”.

The bilateral relationship is important, but External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid appears too eager to kiss and make up. He should remember that it took the Iran vote for Britain to finally shed its image as a “US lap dog.”

“I am conscious of the fact that this is a valuable relationship between two countries,” said Khurshid. “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.”

The Obama administration has done little to preserve the relationship. Bharara’s office has simply ignored Indian legal proceedings already underway against Sangeeta Richard, Khobragade’s nanny, as if they had no bearing on the case. There was an arrest warrant against her. The disputes over the terms of her employment and salary were to be decided by an Indian court. The Indian embassy submitted the Delhi High Court orders to the State Department but got no response.

The Americans could have settled the dispute stemming from a breach of contract in quiet ways through the State Department and the Indian mission in Washington but that didn’t happen.

Perhaps, President Obama should have spared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a 21-gun salute welcome and the splendour of a state dinner at the White House. It is not an accurate reflection of the importance his administration attaches to the Indo-American relationship.
“I don’t see this administration launching any strategic efforts that include India,” Stephen Cohen, a South Asian expert at the Brookings Institution, had told me years ago.

Cohen is right, all we have seen during the Obama years are a “lot of tier 2″ announcements but nothing of significance. The biggest achievement is that the US has sold close to $8 billion worth of arms to India in the last five years. Still, America acts like a cat on a hot tin roof when India doesn’t buy American.

Since the US has a tendency to forget that it has a valuable relationship with India, it is important for New Delhi to remind Washington by standing its ground on this issue.

“The US is playing games with India.

But America must understand that the world has changed, times have changed and India has changed,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters.

America’s sweet talk, empty promises Harf’s comment emphasising the US will not drop charges against the Indian diplomat came hours after Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s No. 3 official, spoke to foreign secretary Sujatha Singh.

Sherman had discussed steps to defuse tensions. The US initially had not bargained for the ferocity of the Indian reaction to the deplorable way Khobragade was treated. That prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to call National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon.

“In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India,” Harf said.

Khobragade broke down several times after US marshals subjected her to a strip search, cavity search and DNA swabbing following her arrest on visa charges in New York.

“The courts can judge the veracity of charges against Khobragade but her treatment by US marshals cannot blithely be dismissed as “standard procedure” and other mindless bureaucratese.

Her humiliation is what has caused the outrage in India. As a diplomat, she represents her country abroad and under “standard procedure” enjoys certain benefits. As do American diplomats in India. It is that simple,” wrote Seema Sirohi in the Economic Times.

India should remind arrogant Washington their diplomats have also been on the wrong side of the law too. Yet, India has been a good host and granted US diplomats their privileges. According to reports, an Indian died in Delhi after being hit by a car driven by a US diplomat but compensation was given to the family and the matter was handled without a transatlantic circus.


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