WASHINGTON - The arrest and strip-search of a female Indian diplomat has disturbed Washington-Delhi relations, a US State Department official has acknowledged, saying that efforts were being made to turn the situation around.
“I think what we’re focused on and what I repeatedly (said) is how to move the relationship forward and get it back in a place that is best for both countries,” the department’s deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told the daily press briefing on Friday.
The spokesperson made that statement when asked whether the US agreed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that the case of India’s deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade had caused hiccups in the bilateral relationship.
“I mean, when you hear the Secretary (of State) express regret about something, that means that everything hasn’t gone as it should,” Harf said in responding to the question. Her comments came after Singh termed the arrest of Khobragade, 39, in New York as “temporary aberrations” in Indo-US strategic relationship, saying diplomacy should be given chance to resolve the issue.
The spokesperson added, “And what we’re focused on now is getting the relationship back on a really strong footing. We just have too much important work to do together going forward on a host of issues in the region and around the world.”
Meanwhile, Harf denounced as a “hoax” a video on the social media that purportly shows CCTV footage of the strip search of Indian diplomat Khobragade after her arrest in New York.
“This video, which we are aware of, is absolutely not footage of Ms Khobragade. We would call it a dangerous and provocative fabrication,” the spokesperson said.
Terming the video as irresponsible and disturbing, she said, “this hoax video, which I think has appeared on some news websites without obviously confirming its authenticity, because it’s not, we find it deeply troubling, irresponsible and reckless and condemn, again, this dangerous fabrication. I want to make very clear this is not video of her,” Harf said.
The spokesperson said the State Department spoke with the US Marshals Service on this issue. “They confirm that the footage in question does not depict US marshal employees, obviously that the search methods depicted in the video are not US marshals’ policy. I haven’t watched the video myself. But I want to be very clear in saying this is not how we do things here,” she said.
Khobragade was arrested in New York on December 12 on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard and subjected to strip and cavity search that sent a wave of anger in India and resulted in government withdrawing some of the dipomatic privileges extended to US diplomats.
The US continues to review the paper work that the State Department received from the United Nations on the transfer of Khobragade to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, which would give her full diplomatic immunity.
“There’s a judicial process, a legal process underway, and I don’t have any estimates for how long that will all take to play out. There’s also our diplomatic discussions as well. Just nothing new to announce or guess about here today,” Harf said.
Harf also said US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal is looking forward to her maiden visit to India, the schedule for which visit is yet to be announced. “Our Assistant Secretary certainly looks forward to visiting India as soon as possible,” Harf said.