India, US in conversations to resolve diplomat issue

Written by Press Trust of India | New Delhi/Washington | Updated: Dec 22 2013, 08:07am hrs
Efforts to resolve the Indo-US diplomatic standoff over senior diplomat Devyani Khobragades arrest continued on Saturday with both sides stating that they are in conversations to find a way out.

Publicly, their common refrain was that the bilateral relationship was extremely valuable, though Washington continued to harp on their line that Khobragade would not enjoy diplomatic immunity retroactively. She has since been transferred to the Indian Mission to the UN to give her full immunity.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid maintained his conciliatory tone when he termed the relationship extremely exceptionally valuable, a sentiment reciprocated by the US state department which said, it is important to preserve and protect our partnership.

Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi, We are in a conversation at different levels. Let the conversation go to its logical conclusion.

In Washington, a state department spokesperson said the US was continuing the conversation with our Indian counterparts privately to resolve the situation arising out of the arrest and strip-search of Khobragade in a visa fraud case.

Asking the US to understand the value of the relationship, Khurshid asked whether it was unreasonable for India to expect Washington to allow its diplomat to serve with dignity.

The state department maintained even if there was a change in the status of Khobragade from being deputy consul general with limited immunity to being posted to the UN mission where she gets full immunity, there would not be a clean slate from the past charges.

However, the US assertion that retroactive immunity is not possible flies in the face of precedents such as the one involving a Saudi prince in 1982 when he was accused of holding an Egyptian woman against her will in Dade County in Florida state.

Observers say at the time of the incident, Prince Abdulaziz had no diplomatic credentials. But three weeks later, the state department granted Abdulaziz and his family full diplomatic immunity.

The Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Dade Countys counter claims and held that the Prince had been eligible for diplomatic status at the time of the incident even if he had not received it.

The court ruling, in effect, endorsed the concept of retroactive immunity.

Diplomatic immunity means, among other things, that a foreign diplomat is not subject to criminal jurisdiction in the US for the time they are a diplomat, for the time they have that immunity, a US state department spokesperson said.

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested and then handed over to the US Marshals Service.

The ill-treatment of its diplomat evoked a sharp reaction from India which initiated a slew of steps to downgrade the privileges enjoyed by the US diplomats and their families.

Meanwhile, several rights groups representing domestic workers in the US have protested outside the Indian consulate in New York demanding justice for Khobragades maid, saying officials cannot use diplomatic immunity to escape accountability for their actions.

The National Domestic Workers' Alliance led the hour-long demonstrations on Friday, with participation from other groups like Safe Horizon, the victim assistance agency representing Khobragades maid Sangeeta Richard, Damayan Migrant Workers' Association and National Guestworker Alliance.

Back home, about 50 activists of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, a left-wing youth outfit, staged a demonstration in front of the US Consulate in Chennai on Saturday to protest the arrest of the diplomat in New York. They raised slogans and held placards against the US government, condemning her arrest, the police said.