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Despite diplomat row, India says US probably still most important ally

23 January, 2014

NEW DELHI: The case of the Indian consul arrested and strip-searched in New York last month was handled "appallingly" and needs to be resolved, but the United States remains probably India's most important ally, the Indian ambassador to Washington, Indian media reported on Wednesday.

"There was a fair measure of anger about both the substance of the problem and the way it was handled," S Jaishankar said. "It was not just done publicly; frankly it was done appallingly."

Jaishankar said India was "perplexed" by the decisions of US authorities to arrest and strip-search 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul in New York, after she was accused of visa fraud and underpaying her maid.

But Jaishankar, who arrived in Washington in December after serving as Indian ambassador to China, played down the impact on the practical side of the relationship - emphasizing that the two sides were still talking despite the postponement of two high-level US visits this month, including one by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

"Frankly, it's probably the most important relationship," he said. "We are not holding up business, or Pentagon dealings, or congressional dealings ... or science programs and saying, 'They don't get done until things get sorted out.'"

Ms Khobragade left the United States this month after a complex deal in which her diplomatic status was switched to the United Nations, affording her a greater degree of immunity from prosecution. But US authorities have so far refused to drop the charges against her.

Until the issue was resolved, Mr Jaishankar said, the level of immunity enjoyed by US consular officials in India would be reduced to exactly the level granted in the United States.

India sharply curbed privileges offered to US diplomats in retaliation for Ms Khobragade's treatment and asked Washington to withdraw a diplomat from New Delhi.


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