India hopeful of solution despite US refusal to drop case

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New Delhi, December 20:  India’s efforts to persuade the US into dropping visa fraud charges against its woman diplomat hit a stalemate on Friday but External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was hopeful that he and US Secretary of State John Kerry would come to “a logical conclusion” on the matter.

In Washington and here, US officials suggested that proceedings against the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobargade could not be dropped even as they were prepared to sympathise with her treatment during her arrest. Mr. Khurshid was hopeful of a solution, basing his premise on “meaningful conversations” with Mr. Kerry that could lead to an outcome “one way or the other’’.

While engaged in dialogue with the U.S. – with U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell on Friday – India ruled out any rethink on its directive to all U.S. Embassy personnel to surrender their identity cards by Monday evening. The Government will issue fresh cards that will specify the level of diplomatic immunity accorded to each diplomat, “just like they do to us’’, said sources. India has already cancelled the special treatment to US diplomats at airports because its diplomats do not get such privileges in the US.

The day saw protests in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Republican Party of India (Athawale) attacked a US food chain Dominos in Mumbai protesting against Dr. Khobargade’s arrest and called for the boycott of all American restaurants. In Hyderabad, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) activists were detained as they were marching to the U.S. Consulate. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad also held a protest near the consulate.

Mr. Khurshid also indicated that back channel diplomacy was at work by stating at a news conference that “ some parts of diplomacy have have to be done with some degree of discreetness till such time as the diplomatic conversations are concluded… Let me get back to you when my conversation is completed.’’

The Minister also underlined the importance of ties with the US in which “enormous investments’’ have been made. “I think when we deal with each other we have to keep that entire gamut in mind. We think its important to preserve that relationship, I am sure that they think as well that it is important to preserve this relationship.’’

The Indian diplomat received backing from Union Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur all called for the US to apologise and drop charges against her. “We will not accept this conduct under any circumstances. The US has to understand that the world has changed, times have changed and India has changed,’’ said Mr. Nath.

Former Foreign Minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said there were “many people’’ in India living in violation of the law and don’t deserve diplomatic status. Another senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said India must take a strong stand and not let a prosecutor [US Attorney Preet Bharara] govern foreign policy.

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