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Diplomat row: rumblings in US Congress over reduced security at American embassy in Delhi

Security barriers outside the embassy were removed on December 17 among a series of retaliatory responses taken by India after the arrest and strip search of the Indian diplomat in New York.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2013 18:39 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Devyani Khobragade,India-US diplomatic row,US embassy

The US Congress has not spoken yet on the current impasse with India over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, but it is said to be concerned, especially, with the reduced security at the American embassy in New Delhi.

Security barriers outside the embassy were removed on December 17 among a series of retaliatory responses taken by India after the arrest and strip search of Khobragade in New York.

"We can understand the anger and the other measures," said a senior congressional aide on condition of anonymity, "but removing the barriers has raised security concerns."

Those concerns feed on the attack on its mission in Libya's Benghazi in 2012, which claimed the lives of four of its diplomats including ambassador J Christopher Stevens.

The White House and the state department have already talked about the issue.

With the exception of a statement by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who condemned the way Khobragade was treated, there hasn't been much of a reaction on the Hill yet.

Despite the fact that a congressional delegation visiting India was the first to face New Delhi's fury, when most of its meetings with senior Indian leaders were abruptly cancelled, Congress has been quiet.

Read: India cancels all ID cards issued to US consular officials

Read: Khobragade’s lawyer calls $4,500 salary charge an error, blames US for it

But don't be fooled by the silence, warned an aide and said that it's mostly because of the holidays.

If the issue was still around, when lawmakers return in January, expect trouble specially if the barriers are not back by then.

"Expect statements or resolutions," a congressional source said, adding, "even hearings."

And pressure may be ratcheted up on other issues such as Iran and trade which is a hot-button issue.

Many lawmakers had signed joint letters and appeals earlier in the year asking the administration to pressure India on its alleged discriminatory trade practices.

Some of them are closely watching India's purchase of crude oil from Iran and its continued imports, though severely curtailed, keep popping up at hearings and in statements.

India enjoys bipartisan support on the Hill no doubt, but the security of the US embassy and the diplomats posted there is an extremely sensitive issue with lawmakers.

"An incident like that at the embassy in Delhi has the potential of seriously harming relations," a source said.

Of all the retaliatory actions taken by India, removal of the security barriers has had the US worried most.

Read: White House petition launched to drop charges against Devyani

Read: India hopeful of early resolution in Devyani row

Supporters of Communist Party of India scuffle with policemen at a protest near the American Center in New Delhi December 21, 2013. (Reuters)

"The safety and security of our diplomats and consular officials in the field is a top priority," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney on December 18, day after the barriers were removed.

State department spokesperson Marie Harf followed that up at her own briefing.

"Under Secretary (Wendy) Sherman and others have made clear to the Indian Government that they need to uphold their obligations to protect our security."

First Published: Dec 25, 2013 11:43 IST