By Arun Kumar
Washington: Amid rising tensions over the arrest and “barbaric” treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York, the US stuck to its guns saying it acted “appropriately” and demanded restoration of security for its missions in India.
Even as it spoke of a “broad and deep friendship” and an “important relationship” with India, US officials Tuesday expressed no regret, leave aside an “unconditional apology” demanded by India over the arrest and alleged strip search of Devyani Khobragade.
Reacting to a slew of retaliatory measures taken by India in response to the treatment of Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, the State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said “an isolated episode” should not “impact the bilateral relationship.”
According to Indian officials, Khobragade, 39, was strip-searched, cavity-searched and swabbed for DNA after her arrest in New York on charges of visa fraud last Thursday, then confined with hardened drug criminals before being released on a $250,000 bail. India’s national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has called the treatment “despicable and barbaric.”
“We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India,” Harf said. “Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.”
So far there is nothing to indicate that “anything but appropriate measures were followed” Harf said. “But again, we don’t want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship, and we’ll keep talking about it with them on the ground and here,” she said.
“The US and India enjoy a broad and deep friendship, and this isolated episode is not in any way indicative of the close and respectful ties that we share and will continue to share,” Harf said.
US officials, she said “have conveyed at high levels to the Government of India our expectations that India will continue to fulfill all of its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”
“Obviously, the safety and security of our diplomats and consular officers in the field is a top priority.”
The US, she said, will “continue to work with India to ensure that all of our diplomats and consular officers are being afforded full rights and protections.”
“Also, of course, safety and security of our facilities as well is something we take very seriously, and we’ll keep working with the Indians on that.”
Adding a new dimension to the case, Harf also claimed that the State Department had advised the Indian Embassy “in writing in September of allegations of abuse made by an Indian national against the deputy consul
general of India in New York.”
“Obviously, we play a role in this, but the Department of Justice also obviously handles the legal aspect of it as well,” she said.
However, Harf said she was “not aware” if the Indian Embassy had informed the State Department about a pending court case in India against Khobragade’s former India-based domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who
has been absconding since June this year.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in the the Philippines was “aware of what’s going on” and the State Department has had “conversations” with the White House about the issue.
Asked if Khobragade was strip-searched, Harf said the State Department was looking into what transpired. While the US State diplomatic security had followed “standard procedures” she could not speak for the US marshals, who took the diplomat into custody.
But in response to specific news media queries about whether a strip search had been conducted on the Indian diplomat, the US Marshals Service confirmed that “standard arrestee intake procedures” were followed.
“Yes, Devyani Khobragade was subject to the same search procedures as other USMS arrestees held within the general prisoner population in the Southern District of New York.” It said she had been placed in an “available and appropriate cell,” it said in a statement.