January 25, 2014

US, India start discussions on diplomatic immunity

Washington, Jan 25, 2014 (AP)


 India's Ambassador to the United States, Dr. S. Jaishankar, gestures during an interviewed with The Associated Press in Washington, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. AP photo

India and the US are holding preliminary discussions to resolve their differing interpretations of diplomatic immunity as they look to mend ties damaged by the row over American treatment of an Indian diplomat who was arrested and strip-searched in New York, India's ambassador said.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India's new envoy in Washington, said yesterday his priority is to raise the "morale" of a relationship that remains fundamentally good despite the spat over Devyani Khobragade, who was expelled from the US this month after she was indicted on accusations of exploiting her housekeeper.

"As you would say in the markets, the fundamentals are good, it's the sentiment that needs improving," Jaishankar told The Associated Press in an interview.

The US and India, the world's largest democracies, have forged closer economic and defence ties in the past decade, but relations took a tumble because of Indian outrage over the treatment of Khobragade, who was the nation's deputy consul general in New York. She was strip-searched after her December 13 arrest, which US Marshals say is common practice for a suspect taken into custody, but was viewed in India as unnecessarily humiliating.

India unleashed a steady stream of retaliatory measures against US diplomats, including restrictions at the American Center in New Delhi and revoking new ID cards for some diplomats. Key to the dispute was Washington and Delhi's differing interpretations of what type of immunity was due to Khobragade. US officials argued that as a consular official, she was immune from prosecution from acts performed in the exercise of consular functions, and not full diplomatic immunity.

Jaishankar said while that's the rule for foreign diplomats in the US, he questioned whether Washington expects its diplomats abroad to be treated in kind. He said India has issued new identity cards for US consular officials to specify that their diplomatic immunity does not cover "serious crimes", referred to as "felonies" in the US.

"There is an issue of what does the US expect abroad and what does the US give at home. I think there's a reconciliation there that needs to be done," the ambassador said. "What fairness would dictate is we would expect and give what you (the US) expect and give."

He said India is starting to work through the issue with the State Department, and US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid discussed it when they met Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference on Syria in Switzerland, their first face-to-face since the imbroglio over Khobragade.

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