US secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday expressed regret over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York last week, and the way she was treated in custody.
Kerry, who is on a tour of southeast Asia, called National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon from his plane to discuss the issue, late into the night in India.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier in the day joined the public outrage calling the public arrest as “deplorable”.
Kerry called Menon to express regrets hours later.
“As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathises with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade's arrest, and in his conversation with National Security Advisor 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,” said state department spokesman Marie Harf.
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The secretary also raised the issue of security of US diplomats in India. “It is also particularly important to secretary Kerry that foreign diplomats serving in the United States are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas,” Harf said.
The White House also said the incident was being looked into to ensure every procedure was followed.
Angered by the incident, New Delhi had withdrawn a bunch of special privileges extended to US mission and diplomats in India, including removing security barricades outside the US embassy in New Delhi.
A bulldozer removes the security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi. (Reuters Photo)
The Indian government had earlier announced Khobragade was being transferred to the UN permanent mission in the city to ensure diplomatic immunity for her.
Wednesday also saw a groundswell of political support for the 39-year-old diplomat in Parliament with members across parties demanding a stern response to Washington’s “bullying”, many of them recounting their own experiences at American airports.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament that Khobragade — who was handcuffed in public, cavity-searched and held with drug addicts last week on charges of visa fraud and exploiting her housekeeper — had been trapped in a “conspiracy”. He said, “It is my responsibility. We will bring back the diplomat and restore her dignity. If I fail to do it, I will not return to this House.”
Read: Devyani’s arrest a matter of India’s honour: Khurshid
As it emerged that the husband and two children of the maid, Sangeeta Richard, had obtained US visas and flown to New York just two days before Khobragade’s arrest on December 12, New Delhi accused Washington of planning the arrest and facilitating an immigration fraud, and ignoring its warning that there was a threat of illegal immigration by Richard’s family.
“It is not illegality that she (Khobragade) is accused of but the illegality she refused to oblige,” Khurshid said.
Khobragade’s transfer to the UN permanent mission (PMI), which happened late Tuesday, does not immediately change her immunity status, though. The PMI will now have to ask the state department to cancel her earlier identity card as a member of the consulate, with A1 visa, which granted her limited consular immunity. It will then apply for a fresh PMI ID card under a different visa type — G 1. This can take up to three weeks, during which time she will have diplomatic immunity cover.
Video: Vow to bring back Devyani and restore her dignity, says Khurshid
The host country also has to agree to the move, more so in this incident as a criminal case is pending against her.
Indicating a long battle was ahead and justifying the government’s move to scrap privileges enjoyed by US diplomats in India, Khurshid said, “It is no longer an issue of an individual, the sovereignty of a nation is involved.”
Meanwhile, Khobragade’s father said the government’s efforts were still short of yielding desired results. “My family wants the charges against Devyani dropped immediately, and we will continue to seek an unconditional apology from the US government for treating our daughter in inhuman ways,” former bureaucrat Uttam Khobragade told HT.
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