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Tit-for-tat kick as bitterness lingers US diplomat tied to tickets told to leave

Devyani Khobragade at Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi on Friday. Picture by
Prem Singh

New Delhi. Jan. 10: Devyani Khobragade’s return to India tonight has ended the immediate spat between New Delhi and Washington, but effects of the bitter recrimination between the nations triggered by the diplomat’s arrest last month appear set to linger.

India asked the US embassy here to send back a mid-level diplomat who officials here said used a credit card to pay for tickets to fly out the family of Khobragade’s nanny Sangeeta Richard two days before the diplomat was arrested based on the domestic help’s complaint.

The US diplomat has to leave India by Sunday afternoon, officials said, or risk a criminal prosecution on charges of tax evasion and interference in the work of Indian legal authorities.

Delhi police had registered an FIR against Richard’s husband Philip and India had informed the US about the police case, but the US flew them out on visas awarded only to families of trafficking victims.

India will also not roll back any of the multiple measures it has taken to downgrade the privileges it had earlier allowed to the US embassy, consulates and their diplomats after Khobragade’s December 12 arrest, senior officials indicated.

New Delhi will wait for a few weeks before re-entering into high-profile public meets with senior officials of the Barack Obama administration who Indian officials have shunned over the past three weeks, the officials said.

“The immediate heat may be dissipating, but we are by no means happy, and the relationship isn’t back to where it was before December 12,” an official said. “That will take time and political will from both sides.”

Khobragade will now be posted in a director-level position in the ministry of external affairs here in India.

India, officials said, would continue to pressure the US to drop charges against Khobragade, suggesting that the diplomat’s departure from that nation has reduced the case against her to a “show trial.”

But equally, officials from both nations accept, they must start working on rebuilding a partnership critical to both India and the US but fractured by Khobragade’s arrest and the failure of the strategic allies to de-escalate the dispute.

“The relationship needs to heal,” an official said. “It has an opportunity now, but it will not be easy.”

India and the US have over 30 annual interactions between top officials across sectors ranging from global concerns like Afghanistan and Syria to water, energy and education.

But two key visits by senior US administration officials — assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal Desai and energy secretary Ernest Moniz — have already fallen victim to the spat.