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US keeps Devyani pot boiling

- Manhattan sounds a jarring note, Moscow cries ‘unfriendly’ gesture

New York/New Delhi, Feb. 1: US prosecutors have told a Manhattan court they intend to pursue visa fraud charges against Devyani Khobragade as she no longer enjoys immunity from prosecution, at a time the two nations are trying to stitch together a pact to prevent a repeat of the Indian diplomat’s arrest.

The arguments by the office of Manhattan’s US attorney Preet Bharara in court papers are not surprising. The US state department has consistently maintained that Khobragade violated immigration laws, and denied that it will pressure prosecutors to drop charges against the diplomat — as India has demanded.

But the unambiguous articulation of the Barack Obama administration’s intent to pursue charges against Khobragade has hurt attempts to get India-US ties back on track with a mechanism to prevent any repeat, top government officials have told The Telegraph.

At least 12 other Indian diplomats currently serving in the US have Indian household help, and Delhi wants Washington to assure that no charges against these diplomats — and others in future — will be pursued without adequate prior diplomatic attempts at resolving differences.

“There was absolutely no legal requirement for the US prosecutors to make such a specific statement on their intent to pursue the case right now,” an Indian official said.

“The statements may have little impact for Devyani’s case, but they do have the potential to sour attempts at striking an understanding that what happened should never happen again.”

Reuters reported that Bharara’s deputies Kristy Greenberg and Amanda Kramer have said — in documents filed before a Manhattan federal court yesterday — that Khobragade no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Technically, the prosecutors are correct.

The US had agreed to accord Khobragade full diplomatic immunity after she was moved to India’s United Nations mission in New York following her December arrest. But Khobragade flew out of the US, back to India on January 10 for a position at the ministry of external affairs headquarters — effectively terminating the immunity a position at India’s UN mission brought.

Both India and the US have since begun cautious attempts at resurrecting ties — including a key meeting between foreign minister Salman Khurshid and US secretary of state John Kerry on the margins of the Geneva-2 negotiations on Syria in Montreux last week.

But it was the spat over Khobragade and Delhi’s demand for a mechanism to avoid a repeat with other diplomats that dominated the conversation.

The two leaders “recognised the need to put in place institutional arrangements to look at all outstanding issues relating to the privileges and immunities of diplomats of both countries so that such issues could be resolved in a timely manner,” the foreign office said in a statement after the meeting on January 22.