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India, US put Devyani Khobragade flap on backburner to resume strategic engagement – The Economic Times

WASHINGTON: India and the United States appeared to put the Khobragade issue on the backburner on Tuesday notwithstanding simmering differences arising from the episode, as the two sides pushed ahead with the larger strategic agenda that includes defense and energy cooperation. US deputy secretary of state William Burns hosted a lunch for Indian ambassador S Jaishankar at the state department at which they “affirmed the importance of US-India strategic partnership”, and while agreeing that the past several weeks have been “challenging,” the State Department said on Tuesday. The two officials “affirmed our shared commitment to continue joint US-India work on issues such as clean energy and climate change, defense, economic and trade engagement, counter terrorism, and civil nuclear development,” and to that end, they discussed initial preparations for a range of upcoming bilateral meetings and exchanges, a media note from the State Department said. Reflecting the continued tussle over issues arising from the Khobragade episode, the statement also disclosed the two officials also discussed a variety of issues raised by India’s ministry of external affairs via a diplomatic note, “including alleged issues with the American Embassy School.” Burns, it said, conveyed that Washington “takes the concerns very seriously and will continue to address them via appropriate diplomatic channels.” The Indian note, which stems from the reciprocity principle that New Delhi has now invoked followed what it believes is an egregious and over-the-top US action on its diplomat Devyani Khobragade in her dispute with her housekeeper, questions various commercial activities undertaken by the US embassy and its officials. New Delhi has evidently drawn up this list to underscore the fact that there was a relatively relaxed interpretation of rules and laws among diplomatic corps on both sides, and as long as the violations were not flagrant, invoking criminal provisions, as the US did in the case of Khobragade, is inimical to conduct of bilateral ties. The fundamental proposition India is making is that domestic laws and law-enforcement cannot be allowed to hijack foreign relations — particularly when the offense involved is not serious — by ham-handed and heavy-handed officials pursuing a personal agenda. As far as New Delhi is concerned, there is little evidence that the housekeeper was ill-treated by the diplomat; if anything, the prosecution ignored testimony that showed he was happy and satisfied with her working condition and wage agreement before she developed her plans to emigrate. The Indian side is vehemently of the belief that criminalizing the charges against Devyani Khobragade, on the basis of dubious allegations that cherry-picked facts, ill-served bilateral ties. This broadly is the message Ambassador Jaishankar is also seeking to convey in a series of meetings on the Hill, where lawmakers have held their counsel on an issue that inflamed the mood at the lower levels of the executive and law-enforcement side. Jaishankar met house Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, among others on Tuesday, following up meeting earlier in the weeks with senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Congressmen Jim McDermott and Eliot Engel. Meanwhile, Devyani Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack asked on the New York court where the case was being heard to dismiss the proceedings against her citing the immunity granted to her. “It is apparent that the immunity which cloaked Dr Khobragade on Dec 12, 2013, should have prevented her arrest, handcuffing, jailing, strip searching and imposition of bail conditions,” Arshack wrote to Manhattan federal judge Shira Scheindlin , who has yet to rule. “Dr Khobragade now formally moves this court to dismiss the instant proceeding, to rescind the conditions of her release and eliminate her bail conditions as she is immune from criminal prosecution in the United States,” Arshack said in the filing. Separately, the two countries also raised the profile of a cooperative story to symbolically convey that things are returning to normal after a month fraught with tension. US authorities on Tuesday returned to the Indian government one of the world’s most-wanted stolen pieces of art, a 350-pound “Vishnu and Lakshmi” sandstone sculpture was pilfered in 2009 from a temple in Rajasthan, in a choreographed ceremony at the New York consulate where Khobragade served.
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