NEW DELHI/NEW YORK – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his regret to India over the arrest and strip search of a consular official in New York as he sought to calm a row over the incident Wednesday.
Kerry phoned Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to convey “his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship,” the State Department said.
The Indian official, Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was arrested Dec. 12, wrote in an email to colleagues that she was subjected to a cavity search during detention. India retaliated by removing concrete security barricades outside the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, canceling airport passes for American diplomats and freezing import requests, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said.
Mounting tensions threaten to damage a decade of collaboration between the world’s two biggest democracies as they deepen trade and defense ties and strengthen cooperation to fight terrorism.
“It takes a long time to build up a relationship of mutual trust, and it is very easy to spoil it with such an incident,” said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the New Delhi-based South Asian Analysis Group. “People are reacting like the entire country has been insulted, not just one individual.”
U.S. prosecutors say Khobragade submitted a false visa application for an employee who was to work as her housekeeper and baby-sitter, and court records show she was charged with one count each of visa fraud and making false statements.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the U.S. has “conveyed at high levels to the government of India our expectations” that it will protect U.S. diplomats.
Khobragade, who works in India’s consulate general in New York, was arrested by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 12 in front of her daughter’s school on West 97th Street in Manhattan, her lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said. She was held by U.S. Marshals in the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan, where she was strip-searched. She was presented before a U.S. magistrate judge and released later the same day.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Khobragade’s treatment “deplorable.”
Khobragade has been transferred to a position at India’s United Nations mission in New York from her consular role to give her great diplomatic immunity, the Press Trust of India reported. Khobragade was being blackmailed by her housekeeper and baby-sitter, who was seeking money and U.S. legal residency, Foreign Minister Khurshid said in the upper house of India’s parliament. Khobragade’s pleas for help to the New York Police Department were never taken seriously, he said.