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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014

Diplomat row: Removing barricades not a new idea

Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times  Washington, December 28, 2013
First Published: 09:58 IST(28/12/2013) | Last Updated: 01:38 IST(29/12/2013)

India had first considered removing barriers from outside the US embassy in Delhi earlier this year in retaliation for a security risk created for its embassy in Washington DC.

It didn’t go through with it then but did not hesitate a few months later when diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip-searched in New York on December 12.

New Delhi hit back with a bunch of retaliatory measures of which the barriers appear to have hit the US most, raising for them the prospect of a repeat of Benghazi.

But India’s security concerns are no less, having suffered deadly attacks on its embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan twice, losing a top diplomat and an army officer in one of them.

Indian diplomats driving in to work at the DC embassy - 2107 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington - one May morning noted with alarm a crucial road signage was missing.

It had said “Diplomatic cars only”, and had reserved a small stretch of parking on an inner lane running right past the embassy entrance for vehicles belonging to the mission.

But more than the convenience of reserved parking, much cherished by diplomats working there, the strip secured the front of the embassy from a Times Square kind of bombing attempt.

A vehicle packed with explosives was found parked at Times Square in New York in 2010 just before it could explode killing hundreds in one of the city’s top tourist destinations.

The Indian embassy lodged a protest with the state department the same day pointing out the security risk, among other issues. It was told to get in touch with the DC government instead.

As advised, the embassy wrote to the DC government, without any success. And the Ministry of External Affairs took it up with the US embassy in Delhi, also without any result.

That was the first time Indian considered retaliating by removing the barriers - traffic barriers, not security barriers, a source insisted - outside the US embassy.

The barriers - concrete structures that prevent close access to the embassy - were installed at the request of the Americans in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

It was tough to turn them down then. And the barriers stayed there ever since, to continuing discomfort of other embassies on that road - the French and Swedish.

But it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the US this time around, a source said, after the way Khobragade was arrested and treated in custody of the US Marshals.

It was time the US understood security concerns of other countries. That patch outside the DC embassy is just as important as the barriers in Delhi, another source added.


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