India says ‘no standoff’ with US in diplomat row

India's foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, said there is "no standoff" with Washington after a diplomatic battle following the arrest and strip search of India's deputy consul-general in New York.

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NEW DELHI // India said yesterday there was “no standoff” with Washington after it expelled a US diplomat in a bitter row over the arrest and strip search of an Indian consulate official in New York.

The Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid’s comments came a day after New Delhi gave a US diplomat 48 hours to leave the country over the dispute that has seriously strained bilateral ties.

“There is no standoff between India and the US,” Mr Khurshid said, adding “if there are any issues” the countries will “sort them out mutually”.

Relations began fraying when Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested last month on charges of visa fraud involving her domestic servant and lying about how much she paid her.

Shortly before her indictment on Thursday, Washington granted the Indian official, who has denied all charges, full diplomatic immunity, allowing her to return to India in what appeared to be a compromise worked out with New Delhi.

But the announcement on Friday that India had ordered the US diplomat to leave in apparent reprisal for its envoy’s treatment in New York suggested New Delhi was not ready to be entirely forgiving.

The deeply unpopular Congress government, struggling to win back favour in general elections due by May, has been under heavy pressure to act tough with Washington as opposition politicians have pounced on US actions.

They have denounced the treatment of the Indian diplomat as a violation of national sovereignty and said the United States should not be allowed to ride roughshod over Indian interests.

News of the US embassy official’s expulsion was splashed over newspaper front pages yesterday along with photos of Ms Khobragade arriving home, her palms pressed together in a traditional Indian greeting.

“I am really thankful for all your support. My government will speak for me, my lawyer will speak for me,” Ms Khobragade, 39, who left her husband and two children behind in the United States, said yesterday.

Mr Khurshid said it was “unfortunate” that the diplomat “couldn’t complete her [US] tenure”.

The United States said late Friday it “deeply regrets” India’s expulsion of the US official and wanted to mend a partnership Washington has seen as a potential bulwark against China’s growing might.

“We’re looking to move our relationship forward. We’re looking to move past this challenging time,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Ms Khobragade allegedly obtained a visa for her maid by promising to pay her US$4,500 (Dh16,500) a month and then struck a secret deal to pay her 30,000 rupees (Dh1,800) a month, far below the US minimum wage.

* Agence France-Presse