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Nanny impact: US energy secretary trip off

New Delhi, Jan. 9: US energy secretary Ernest Moniz has put off his planned visit to India on January 15 in a move that several officials here are reading as a sign that Washington is unlikely to take steps by then to resolve the public spat over the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

Moniz was to hold a series of meetings with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on India’s rapidly growing interest in US shale gas, and in technology used by American companies to extract the resource.

The US decided to call off the visit after India indicated that Ahluwalia and other senior Indian officials would be unable to meet Moniz or be seen doing business with the Americans unless the dispute over Khobragade is resolved, senior officials said.

Moniz is the second senior official to put off an India visit this month, after US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal postponed her January 6 visit.

India had hoped that its warning over the impact of the dispute on the energy secretary’s visit would push Washington into recognising Khobragade’s accreditation to the United Nations before January 13, when she faces an indictment in a New York court.

That recognition would mean that the US accepts it cannot arrest Khobragade while she is a representative at India’s permanent mission to the UN in New York, a position India moved her to after her arrest in December.

Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general at India’s New York consulate, is charged with visa fraud and falsifying documents to get a visa for her Indian nanny, Sangeeta Richard, who she then allegedly underpaid.

But the US decision to indefinitely postpone the Moniz visit suggests that it is now unlikely to recognise Khobragade’s accreditation — and the full immunity from arrest that a diplomat serving at a UN mission gets — in time for the January 13 hearing.

“If they planned to recognise her immunity from arrest by January 13, as we have been demanding as the first major step towards a resolution, a January 15 visit by Moniz should not have been a problem,” an official said. “By putting off the visit, there’s a signal that they’re in no hurry to resolve the crisis.”

Although the UN has accredited Khobragade, India fears that US law enforcement authorities could once again arrest the diplomat unless the state department officially acknowledges the accreditation and the immunity it brings.

“Technically, they could argue that they can arrest her till they have formally recognised her accreditation and immunity,” another official said.

Top Indian officials had in December boycotted a visit by a US Congress delegation in protest against Khobragade’s arrest. The delegation was scheduled to meet Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. But they all refused to meet the visitors.

Devyani court blow

A US federal judge has denied a request by Khobragade’s lawyer to delay proceedings in the visa fraud case, Reuters adds.

In an order issued on Wednesday, US magistrate judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan refused to extend the January 13 deadline by which a preliminary hearing must be held or an indictment filed in the case.

In asking Netburn on Monday to extend the deadline, Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said it was negatively interfering with plea negotiations with the government.

But Netburn ruled that Arshack had only sought a delay of the preliminary hearing and that such an extension would not alter the deadline for filing an indictment.

Arshack said he and his client are considering their options.