Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Wednesday expressed regret over the arrest and strip-search of Devyani Khobragade, was aware of the senior Indian diplomat's arrest. Khobragade, the 39-year-old Deputy Indian Consul General, was subjected to a humiliating strip search, was swabbed for DNA and was kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest in New York last week for alleged visa fraud.
"He (Kerry) was certainly aware, yes, absolutely. He's been kept up to speed on this case," the State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters soon after informing them that Kerry spoke over telephone to the National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. "He (Kerry) certainly expressed regret about what happened with this case writ large, sort of how this has all played out," she said.
"I think part of it, of course, was focused on the fact that we don't believe that there should be steps taken in Delhi or elsewhere in India by the government to prohibit us from doing our work, to put restrictions on our work, some of the things we've talked about with the demarches.
Khobragade was subjected to a humiliating strip search, was swabbed for DNA and was kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest in New York last week.
"It was really about the whole situation, honestly, and focused on how we move forward," Harf said, giving a description of the telephonic call between the two leaders.
Harf said Kerry understands very deeply the importance of enforcing US laws and protecting victims and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in the US.
Besides Kerry, the Under Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Windy Sherman spoke with the Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh on the developments following the arrest of the Indian diplomat. There was no explanation given as to why Kerry did not call his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid, the External Affairs Minister.
Harf described this as a "positive" conversation. "He expressed regret with what happened. As a father of two daughters about the same age, he empathises with the sensitivity, certainly. I'm not going to further parse what he said in a private conversation, but needless to say, it was a positive conversation and we're focused on moving the relationship forward," she said.
Harf said the US do not want the incident to negatively further impact the bilateral relationship. "Kerry wanted to directly engage on this with the Indian government. I think that's how I would describe what he walked away from it with. And we have no reason to believe that they didn't as well," she said, adding that other top State Department officials also spoke with Indian officials.
"Just this morning Undersecretary Sherman spoke with Foreign Secretary Singh to convey our understanding of Indian displeasure at this incident and our expectation that Indian government agencies will continue to fulfil their host of government obligations regarding the safety and security of our personnel and mission premises," she said.
The State Department has not received any communication from the Indian government about the transfer of the Indian diplomat to the United Nations, she said. "We have seen these media reports, but we at the State Department have not received any official communication regarding a possible change of credentials," she said.
"In terms of the process, if and when such a request is made to the UN, it would be made to the UN Secretariat, who would then inform the Department of State. If, again, such a request is made, which we have not received any communication on such a request, it would have to be reviewed by all appropriate authorities at the UN and at the Department of State.
"It's not an automatic thing by any means. But again, we haven't received such a request," she noted.
"Since no request has been made to us, I don't know what that would look like in practice. I've been very clear about what her diplomatic status was at the time of the arrest and currently is, which is, of course, consular immunity," she said.
Harf said US officials have been in contact with the complainant (the maid) and her family. "I can't comment on the substance of that contact, but I want to stress that all authorities have followed and are following all laws and procedures, certainly related to this issue and any other issues as well," she added.
The US welcomed the statement from the Ministry of External Affairs that India is fully committed to ensuring the safety and security of all diplomats in Delhi and elsewhere and that they fully intend to fulfil their Vienna Convention obligations, she said.
"So we'll keep talking with them about it and working on this moving forward," she said. Acknowledging that the US has received several demarches from the government of India, she said: "We have been very clear that we believe our diplomats should be allowed to continue with their jobs. They should not be impeded from doing them in any way by any of these actions. That's what we're focused on. The conversations continue at high levels, clearly. And we'll keep having them going."