Whether the accreditation of Devyani Khobragade as a member of
India's U.N. mission leads to a way out of the dispute could depend
on the U.S. State Department approving her transfer.
Asoke Mukherji, India's ambassador to the United Nations, said he
had written to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informing him of the
39-year-old diplomat's transfer.
The world's two largest democracies have been at loggerheads for the
past week, amid mounting outrage in India over the arrest of
Khobragade, who was strip-searched and handcuffed while in custody.
Khobragade was arrested on December 12 and released on $250,000 bail
after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of
visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her
housekeeper, also an Indian.
At the time of her arrest Khobragade was serving as deputy consul
general in New York, a role which affords less diplomatic protection
from U.S. law. She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if
convicted of both counts.
In an unusual move, the United States has flown the family of the
housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, out of India.
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York,
said on Wednesday Richard's family had been brought to the United
States after legal efforts had begun in India "to silence her, and
attempts were made to compel her to return to India.
Mukherji said that once Khobragade receives her diplomatic card at
the U.N. she would be eligible for greater privileges, including
diplomatic protection from arrest.
"We have welcomed her into our team here at the U.N. I have had a
meeting with her," Mukherji said. "As soon as she is accredited, we
hope she will be able to discharge her responsibilities."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to offer any opinion
on whether the change in diplomatic status could prevent Khobragade
from being re-arrested or enable her to leave the United States.
"I don't want to speculate on that," Psaki told reported.
But she added that a change in status would not provide a "clean
slate from past charges."
STAIN ON THE BIGGER PICTURE
India is demanding that all charges against Khobragade are dropped,
and political parties preparing for an election next May have tried
to outdo each other in their calls for retaliatory action against
the United States.
[to top of second column]
"The U.S. has to understand that the world has changed, times have
changed, India has changed," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister
"The conduct and attitude that the U.S. has shown regarding Devyani
issue is a matter of concern not only for India, but also for all
countries and everyone should raise their voice."
On Friday, protesters ransacked a Domino's Pizza in a Mumbai suburb
in anger on Friday while others shouted slogans outside the U.S.
consulate in the southern city of Hyderabad.
While in New York, a few dozen protesters including several domestic
workers from South and Southeast Asia gathered outside India's
consulate, chanting slogans and waving posters demanding that
Khobragade's diplomatic immunity be waived.
"Passports revoked, slave wages, restricted communication — this
constitutes trafficking workers," said Leah Obias, an organizer with
the migrant-workers rights group Damayan. "There are diplomats
trafficking workers all over the city and we demand justice."
For all the strong words, both sides have a strong interest in
getting relations back on track. India and the United States have
enjoyed warmer ties on several fronts over the past decade.
Bilateral trade has reached over $90 billion, and New Delhi and
Washington cooperate closely in counterterrorism, while sharing a
common interest in ensuring stability in Afghanistan once western
"We want to move beyond this, and I think we all recognize the
importance of our long-term relationship," Psaki said.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Joseph Ax, Tabassum Zakaria
and Will Dunham in Washington, Louis Charbonneau and Elizabeth Dilts
in New York; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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