WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday expressed “regret” and “concern” about U.S.-India relations being hurt by a festering row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.
In his talks over the phone with Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, the top American envoy “empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade’s arrest,” as he is a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The 39-year-old Indian deputy consul general in New York was arrested on Dec. 12 over visa fraud charges.
Her alleged mistreatment by U.S. authorities in the process has sparked outrage and retaliatory measures by India, including the revoking of identity cards that entitle American consular officers to diplomatic immunity and expedite travel into and through India, and the removal of traffic barricades outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, India’s capital.
In his conversation with Menon, Kerry “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,” Harf said in a statement.
She said Kerry talked about the importance of law enforcement and the protection of victims in the United States. “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,” she added.
Press reports from India said Khobragade was handcuffed in public as she was dropping her daughter off at school, strip-searched in custody, subjected to DNA swabbing, and kept in a cell with drug addicts until her release on a 250,000-U.S.-dollar bond.
Prosecutors in New York say the diplomat claimed to have paid her Indian maid 4,500 dollars per month, but actually gave her below the U.S. minimum wage, reportedly 3.31 dollars an hour.
In protest against her ill-treatment, India on Tuesday summoned U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell and stopped import clearances for the U.S. embassy, while senior government leaders refused to meet with a visiting delegation of U.S. congressmen.
“We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India, ” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday at a regular press briefing. “We’re looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest, to ensure that all standard procedures were followed and that every opportunity for courtesy was extended.” PNA