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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Dec 2014

World

Will power lunch, 3 antiques improve Indo-US ties?
Yashwant Raj , Hindustan Times
Washington , January 15, 2014
First Published: 11:06 IST(15/1/2014)
Last Updated: 15:26 IST(15/1/2014)

A power lunch at the state department in Washington DC and the return of three stolen antiques to India may not put relations back on track immediately, but should count as a decent reboot.

Indian ambassador to the US, S Jaishankar, had a luncheon meeting with deputy secretary of state William Burns at the state department on Tuesday, his second there this week.

And in New York, the Indian consulate received three stolen sandstone sculptures of medieval antiquity recovered by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Relations between India and the United States were hit recently after the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and New Delhi's retaliatory measures against the US embassy.

Read: Crisis with India ending, want to move relations forward, says US

Read: Some breathing space for troubled India-US ties

Khobragade is back in India now after being asked to leave by the US. And a US diplomat is back home in retaliatory expulsion by New Delhi. Both countries now believe it's time to move on.

Jaishankar had a meeting at the state department on Monday and followed it up with a "productive" lunch with Burns.

"They agreed that the past several weeks have been challenging, and affirmed that we are both committed to moving forward to resume cooperation on the broad range of bilateral issues before us," said the statement department in a statement.

The Indian embassy had no comments on the meeting.

Read: Khobragade arrest revealed real issues that bedevil Indo-US ties

Read: Centre needs to correct India’s foreign policy orientation

The US said the two officials discussed issues raised by the ministry of external affairs about the American School that operates out of the US embassy compound in New Delhi.

Burns told the ambassador the US takes these "concerns very seriously and will continue to address them via appropriate diplomatic channels".

Though not connected to the row over Khobragade, officials of both countries pointed to the return of the stolen idols as another sign of the normalisation of relations.

Read: In diplomacy, reciprocity is important

Read: India, US mishandled Devyani case: ex-diplomats

US ICE officials returned three stolen sculptures to India at its New York consulate, where Khobragade worked at the time of her arrest. She was subsequently transferred to India's permanent mission to the United Nations.

The three sculptures are worth $1.5 million and one of them was listed as one of Interpol's top 10 most wanted stolen works of art. They were reported stolen in 2009.

"The excellent international cooperation between the United States and India led to the recovery and return of these priceless antiquities," said ICE official James A Dinkins.

"The pilfering of a nation's cultural patrimony cannot and will not be tolerated," he added.

Two of the sculptures -- "Vishnu and Lakshmi" and "Vishnu and Parvati" -- were stolen from the Gadgach Temple in Atru, Rajasthan. They are of similar antiquity -- 11th or 12th century AD.

The third sculpture is that of a Bodhisatva from Bihar or West Bengal.

ICE started investigating the theft of the Rajasthan sculptures in April, 2010 when its agents heard someone was trying to sell the recently looted antiquities in New York.

The "Vishnu and Lakshmi" work reached the US through a long route, changing hands several times -- from India it went to Hong Kong, then to Thailand and then London.

The London owner brought it to the US for an exhibition, but ICE agents caught it on its way back. That was in July, 2010. The sister piece was recovered in follow-up action.

The Bodhisatva sculpture was seized in 2011 when it was being smuggled into the country.

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