Washington, Dec 20 — India and US seemed to be back to square one in probably their worst diplomatic spat over the arrest of an Indian diplomat with Washington rejecting a key demand to drop the charges against her and saying “we take law enforcement seriously”.
Even as it described the relationship with India as “incredibly important” the US Thursday made clear that it has no plans to drop the charges of visa fraud against Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, to deescalate the situation.
Any suggestion that the State Department would be putting pressure on New York’s US Attorney Preet Bharara to drop the charges “is not true,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters when asked about such a possibility.
It was not for the State Department “to support or not support” Khobragade’s prosecution, she said. “That’s a decision for law enforcement and the judicial process to make.”
“We certainly take these types of allegations very seriously though,” Harf said. “So certainly, there’s no discussion like that going on. We just want the process to move forward.”
Khobragade has been transferred to India’s Permanent Mission at the UN in New York, in a bid to provide her fuller diplomatic immunity. But Harf said immunity “is not retroactive.”
The State Department had “not yet received an official request through proper channels for re-accreditation,” she said. But if and when a person’s “immunity changes because of a different diplomatic status, that immunity would start on the date it’s conferred,”
Asked if the US had received any request that Khobragade may be allowed to leave New York for India, Harf said she was not aware of such a request.
“But what we’re focused on right now is working to move the relationship forward,” she said noting that US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman had made another call to Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
“They had a good conversation. And also, there’s a process, right, in place right now through the judicial system, a legal process that we also would like to see play out.”
“And we’ll continue having conversations with the Indian government, certainly, as this process moves forward.”
But Secretary of State John Kerry had not spoken with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid Thursday and had had “no plans” to do so following his call to the National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to express his “regret” over the situation.
The expression of “regret” was over the way the whole matter was handled. But the charges against Khobragade were a different matter, Harf said adding “We take law enforcement seriuously.”
The incident and the protests in India, Harf said, were “certainly not indicative of our broad and deep and vital bilateral relationship. That’s what we’ve said from the beginning. This is an isolated episode.”
Kerry “certainly expressed regret that things weren’t done differently at times, but what we’re focused on and why the Secretary and everyone else is so focused on this, is an incredibly important relationship. That has in no way changed,” she said.
“We have a broad and deep relationship,” Harf said. “We work together on a host of issues, whether it’s economic issues, trade, Afghanistan, other issues, and that is only going to continue to increase.”
“This incident is not something that should define that, certainly, or that should negatively impact that,” she said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])