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Focused on moving relationship with India forward: US

January 03, 2014 12:49 IST

The United States has said it is focused on moving forward its relationship with India and asserted that the legal procedure against diplomat Devyani Khobragade is separate from the diplomatic process.

"What we're focused on at the State Department is moving forward with the bilateral relationship," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Thursday.

Harf was responding to questions on India-US relationship in the wake of the arrest of Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and misrepresentation.

"We are focused on moving this relationship forward, working together on all the issues we work together on all the time. That's certainly what our focus has been here," she said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials have expressed regret over the incident and they want to move forward.

Harf said the US is still reviewing the paperwork of Khobragade with regard to her transfer to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.

"We received it on December 20th. It's under review. We can't predict when that review will be complete and can't compare it to previous requests because each is different and we evaluate each on their own merits," she said.

"The legal process is separate, so obviously the department of Justice and the Southern District of New York are handling those discussions. We think its important right now for there to be space for these private diplomatic conversations to continue. We obviously are committed to working with the Government of India on a way forward," Harf said.

A 1999-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. She was released on a $250,000 bond.

The 39-year-old diplomat was strip searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two sides with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps last month.

Days after her arrest, the Indian government transferred Khobragade to the permanent mission of India to the United Nations, with the view that this would give her the necessary diplomatic immunity.

India has strongly objected to Khobragade's arrest, and in protest has withdrawn many of the diplomatic privileges granted to the American diplomats in India. Harf said the US is in constant conversation with India on this issue. The Government of India is having discussions with officials of the Justice Department, which would be considered diplomatic discussions, she said.

"But that's certainly their ballgame, not ours," she said. "We continue to review and discuss all of the Government of India's requests for action, and we're working closely with them on these issues," the spokesperson said.

“US Ambassador to India Nancy) Powell is in Hyderabad for a number of official events, including meeting with business leaders and participating in a clean water event. I think her trip is just one example, but it shows how much we and India are both focused on the way forward," she said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington

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