WASHINGTON – Seeking to defuse a growing dispute, the State Department on Tuesday promised an internal investigation into the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York and urged New Delhi not to retaliate in ways that threatened the safety of U.S. diplomats.
The arrest Thursday of Indian deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade on federal charges of visa fraud has set off a storm of angry protests in New Delhi, and a stripping of privileges of U.S. diplomats there.
Khobragade was accused of filing false documents to obtain a visa for her housekeeper, and of paying her $3.13 an hour, about one-third the federal minimum wage.
Indian officials have protested that the diplomat was strip-searched and forced to wait in jail with “drug addicts” before she was released on bail.
Indian authorities have demanded an official apology, removed security barriers around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, withdrawn airport access passes for U.S. diplomats and demanded return of their IDs.
Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the department had conveyed to New Delhi at a “high level” U.S. expectations that India follow Geneva Convention rules on protecting diplomats.
“Obviously the safety and security of our diplomats and consular officials in the field is a top priority,” she said.
Harf promised that the Obama administration would look into whether Khobragade was mistreated by the State Department's Diplomatic Security bureau, which arrested her, and then by the U.S. Marshals Service.
So far, she said, indications were that the diplomat was treated according to procedure.
The Marshals Service said in a press release that Khobragade was handled according to “standard arrestee intake procedures” for the Southern District of New York. These include detaining her with other female prisoners while she awaited handling of her case.
Harf insisted that the dispute was an isolated incident and “not indicative of the close and respectful ties that we share” with India.The Obama administration is not eager for a disruption of its ties with India. It has sought to strengthen its economic relationship with New Delhi, and to bolster security ties amid regional instability and to offset the growing power of China.