India angrily brushed aside fresh efforts by the United States Friday to defuse a row over the arrest and strip-search of one of its diplomats, warning Washington that “times have changed”.
Diplomatic sources said Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to New Delhi, was holding talks with senior foreign ministry officials as part of efforts to resolve the crisis sparked by the December 12 arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general at its mission in New York.
Powell’s olive branch comes after top State Department officials called their Indian counterparts for the third time in two days to try to draw a line under the controversy over accusations that Khobragade underpaid her maid in New York.
Subsequent revelations that Khobragade was stripped by US Marshals and subjected to an invasive body search have caused outrage in India, whose government wants Washington to drop the case and offer an apology.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed “regret” and stressed the issue should not be allowed to derail a “vital relationship” — a message amplified in a phone call Thursday by State Department number three Wendy Sherman to Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
“What we’re focused on now … is working to move the relationship forward,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
But there was no sign Friday that the calls had placated the government in India which sees itself as an emerging power that should be treated with respect by an ally such as the US.
“They should tender a clear apology. We will not accept this conduct against India under any circumstances,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters.
“The US has to understand that the world has changed, times have changed and India has changed.
“The conduct and attitude that the US has shown regarding the Devyani issue is a matter of concern not only for India but also for all countries and everyone should raise their voice.”
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said he expected to talk with Kerry later in the day in what is likely to be a tense phone call.
“The only question is what do you do when something happens that is irksome, that is hurtful and that is unacceptable,” Khurshid told reporters after talks with Venezuela’s visiting foreign minister.
“You’ve got to find a solution, and we hope we will find a solution.”
Keen to project a muscular image ahead of a general election due in May, the ruling Congress party has taken a strikingly hard line in the dispute.
The vice president of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which is expected to win the election, also warned that India expected a full apology rather than expressions of regret.
“The US will have to apologise,” Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.
“This is an extraordinary event and not about the US and India alone.”
The 39-year-old, who is now free on bail, was detained over allegations that she paid the domestic worker a small fraction of New York’s minimum wage and lied about the employee’s salary in a visa application.
US federal prosecutor Preet Bharara has insisted Khobragade was arrested in the “most discreet” way possible and that his sole motivation was to uphold the rule of law, protect victims and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law “no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are”.
India is trying secure full diplomatic immunity for Khobragade by shifting her to its UN mission in New York, although such a move needs State Department approval.
A spokeswoman for the State Department made clear in a briefing Thursday that the United States could not simply drop the case, as “the judicial process is independent” of the government.
The dispute is the second diplomatic flare-up between India and a major Western nation this year.
India reacted furiously in March when Italy reneged on a promise to fly two marines back to New Delhi to face trial over a fatal shooting.
The marines did eventually return after India ordered immigration authorities to prevent Italy’s ambassador from leaving the country.