Exemption to Devyani from personal appearance in court proceedings in New York a "good beginning," Minister tells The Hindu

India has decided to extend the deadline for U.S. diplomats to surrender their identity cards by another three days, and views as a “good beginning” the exemption of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade from personal appearance in court proceedings in New York.

“We will give it [extension in deadline]. We are reasonable but the extension is for three days. There is no problem,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told The Hindu on Monday, indicating there would be no further measures against U.S. diplomats which he described as “reciprocal.”

“Whatever we had to do we have done. It seems we were going further than what was required by reciprocity. So, we have retreated into reciprocity and that will remain,” he explained, ruling out the rolling back of the measures restricting privileges for U.S. diplomats announced last week.

After Ms. Khobragade’s arrest and strip search in New York, India decided not to extend any special privileges to U.S. embassy and consular employees, and treat them the same way as Washington treated Indian diplomats, he said.

India removed security barriers around the U.S. embassy, curbed imports, and cancelled special airport entry passes. It also asked all embassy and consular employees to turn in their diplomatic identity cards by Monday midnight in return for new ones specifying the level of privilege for each diplomat.

There has been no further public contact between the two sides towards resolving the controversy since Friday. Mr. Khurshid attributed this to the Christmas holiday season in the U.S. But he was satisfied that after full diplomatic status was conferred on the Indian diplomat following her transfer to India’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. in New York, the situation was under control.

Asked about the next high-level contact between the two sides, the Minister indicated that it would be after Christmas. “What to do? For the present, everything is in reasonable control,” he said.

The Minister did not see the incident as impacting on a relationship “that goes back in time…is a strategic partnership that cannot be allowed to get derailed. So we have to find a solution. And we must and we will.”

He felt that the controversy was basically a labour issue. “We can’t look at a situation with equanimity where a diplomat is charged with criminal offences which we are not convinced about. If there is disagreement on interpretation or application of law, basically of labour law, we can find a solution. Surely, it is not a matter of great national security or fundamental betrayal of one’s trust and faith in each other.”

Mr. Khurshid stayed out of the controversy over denial of minimum wages, pointing out that it was not an issue at all. “We respect their law. I am sure they respect ours. There is no problem with laws they make. We will follow them. But why should that lead to [the] arrest of an Indian diplomat? If there is some misunderstanding, at least from our point of view, why should it lead to an arrest? We are very puzzled about it. I expect the law of diplomatic immunity should also be respected [by the U.S.],” he observed.

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