Talks on energy tie-up and discussions on Afghanistan may be rescheduled

On the first day of “withdrawal” of an American diplomat from India, New Delhi indicated that it was not yet business as usual although ties with the U.S. were “not one issue related.”

“We will take each day as it comes because it is important to both look back and forward. The relationship between India and the U.S. is not a one-issue relationship. We have a series of issues on which we are engaged. We will deal with this matter after carefully examining what has been our experience in the past and we will move forward on the broad relationship that we have,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, told newspersons here on Monday.

Before Devyani Khobragade — who was India’s Deputy Consul-General in New York — was arrested and searched on December 12 there on visa fraud charges, India had lined up a series of engagements with the U.S., including an energy dialogue that was to take place this month between U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia during which they were to discuss the crucial issue of a long-term energy relationship.

In addition the two sides were to hold a trilateral with Japan as well as separate bilateral discussions on East Asia and Afghanistan. A meeting of senior officials was lined up to sort out economic issues, including those related to taxation and foreign direct investment caps.

The MEA spokesperson indicated that despite tough words from India, both sides would be looking at rescheduling most of these interactions, seen as crucial for an enduring Indo-U.S. partnership, to ensure they were held by March. Mr. Akbaruddin referred to a Monday meeting in New York between India’s Consul- General in New York [Dr. Khobragade was his Deputy at the time of her arrest] and the officials of Homeland Security to hand over idols stolen from a Rajasthan temple and recovered by the U.S. authorities.

“The point is, the same place where we had differences, we have cooperation and collaboration too. That is the nature of the relationship. It’s extremely broad, it’s wide-ranging, and you will have, on a day-to-day basis, a number of interactions,” he added.

Asked why American diplomat Wayne May was expelled, the MEA spokesperson pointed out that he was involved in processes that eventually led to “unilateral action” by the U.S. against Dr. Khobragade. [The diplomat has been accused of facilitating the evacuation of the family of Sangeeta Richard, who was Dr. Khobragade’s housekeeper, to the U.S.]

Meanwhile, the government is reviewing the policy for senior Indian diplomats taking Indian-Based Domestic Assistants (IBDA) on posting to the U.S. and Europe after three such cases in the last three years in the US. The MEA has proposed that IBDAs be enrolled as contractual employees of the government. There are about around 14 diplomats in the US who have IBDAs.

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