T.P. Sreenivasan, a former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, expected the row over the arrest of the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York to be amicably settled soon after the Christmas-New Year vacation.
Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a function held here on Friday, Mr. Sreenivasan said the fact that Ms. Khobragade was on the permanent mission to the United Nations at the time of her arrest might give her the immunity the American authorities may not have anticipated.
It has now emerged that when she was taken into custody on December 12, Ms. Khobragade, in addition to being Deputy Consular-General at the Indian Consulate in New York - a rank, which, the US said did not entitle her to immunity - had been an “Advisor” to India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations since August 26.
“Secondly, the US authorities may have perhaps mistaken $4,500 as the salary the diplomat intended to pay her housekeeper Sangeeta while it was actually the salary of Ms. Khobragade. On the basis of these two errors, they could withdraw all the charges leveled against the Indian diplomat, if at all they want to do that. Once the Christmas and New Year vacation is over a settlement satisfactory to both the parties is likely,” said Mr. Sreenivasan, who is now serving as the Vice-Chairman and Executive Head of the Kerala State Higher Education Council.
He said that the US got it completely wrong by arresting the Indian diplomat while India was perfectly right in raising an unprecedented opposition over the issue.
To arrest and strip search a diplomat is unheard of in the history of diplomacy. Whatever may be her fault, the merit of which could be analyzed separately, the treatment meted out to her was totally against international conventions particularly the Vienna convention on consular relations.
“The convention specifically states that all consular officers should be treated with respect and that was the least they (the US) did. Secondly the arrest (of any diplomat) is prohibited unless there is a court case and judgment. In both ways they have violated the international guidelines on privileges of diplomats,” the former diplomat said.
He said that it was the kind of privilege that the US has defended for their diplomats and consular officers all over. For instance, they made a big song and dance when their diplomats were detained in Iran.
“Reciprocity is permissible and acceptable in diplomacy. So what we did was simply withdraw whatever facilities were being given to American diplomats over and above what our people get there. I was ten years in the US and had far fewer privileges than what our American counterparts enjoyed here. We haven’t done anything extraordinary,” Mr. Sreenivasan said.
Batting for a strong India-US relationship, he observed that the latter has harmed that relation knowingly or unknowingly. It’s a bit mysterious as to why they did that, he said.