NEW DELHI : India sought to tamp down Saturday a furore over the arrest and strip-search of one of its diplomats in New York, insisting the episode should not be allowed to derail “strong” ties with the United States.
Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said a dialogue with Washington was under way to defuse the crisis sparked by the 48-hour detention of deputy consular general Devyani Khobragade on December 12.
“Our relationship is that of partners. Our mutual relations are very strong,” Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi.
“I believe people in both the countries wouldn’t want the old ties we share to get unsettled by this one incident,” he said.
“That is why the dialogue going on between us should be allowed to continue.”
Khurshid’s tone was milder than on Friday when he termed the treatment of the 39-year-old Khobragade by US Marshals “hurtful” and “unacceptable”. The two countries ties have warmed considerably since they were on opposite sides of the fence during the Cold War.
They now participate in joint security exercises and Washington sees India as a valuable strategic partner in the troubled region.
But the world’s two largest democracies have been at loggerheads since the arrest of Khobragade, who said she was handcuffed and subjected to an invasive body search.
The diplomat, a mother of two, now free on bail, was arrested over accusations that she lied about the salary she was paying her Indian servant in a US visa application.
According to New York authorities, she was paying the domestic worker a third of the figure mentioned in the visa application.
But her treatment has caused outrage in India, with the government urging Washington to drop the case and apologise.
India is trying to secure stronger diplomatic immunity for Khobragade by shifting her to its UN mission in New York, although such a move needs State Department approval.
The Press Trust of India reported Saturday the UN had received an official notification from India to register Khobragade as a member of the Permanent Mission and the request would be processed according to “standard procedures”.
However, a spokeswoman for the State Department made clear in a briefing late this week that there could be no retroactive immunity for Khobragade.
“If there’s a change in immunity... because of a different diplomatic status, that immunity would start on the date it’s conferred,” Marie Harf said.
The government and opposition parties, gearing up for a general election next year, have taken a tough stand over the issue.
Delhi has taken a series of reprisals against the United States, bulldozing security barricades around the US embassy and snubbing a visiting US delegation.