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Pat-down summons for US diplomat

New Delhi, Dec. 11: New Delhi today summoned a senior US diplomat and indicated that if incidents such as the “pat- down” search of ambassador Meera Shankar were repeated, India could be forced to withdraw certain diplomatic privileges given to US officials.

“India respects the privileges of foreign diplomats in India and extends diplomatic courtesies to them. Such incidents (the manual search of Shankar) naturally lead to calls for review of privileges and facilities given in India,” the Americans were told, according to foreign ministry sources.

The message was conveyed to the US deputy chief of mission in India, Donald Lu, by South Block’s joint secretary (Americas), Jawed Ashraf, this afternoon.

Indian officials say that the December 4 incident in Mississippi was the second in three months that Shankar, India’s ambassador to Washington, had to undergo a “pat-down” search at a US airport.

Ashraf told Lu the incident was “unacceptable” — a word earlier used by foreign minister S.M. Krishna to describe the search — and had hurt Indian “cultural and religious sensitivities”.

Delhi’s protest comes despite US secretary of state Hillary Clinton having expressed her concern on Thursday.

Lu was told the manual check was carried out despite Shankar presenting her diplomatic identity, and despite the Indian embassy having met all US guidelines for speedy clearance for ambassadors.

According to foreign ministry sources, Ashraf told Lu that Shankar was escorted by an official of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), yet she had to undergo the enhanced check “because, as we have been informed, she was wearing a sari”.

“It was contrary to the normal diplomatic practice and inconsistent with the excellent relations that India and the US enjoy,” a source quoted Ashraf as saying. “We expect that the state department and the TSA would sensitise all its agents at all airports to the cultural and religious sensitivities of foreign diplomats.”

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