No deal struck with Italy on marines' return: Khurshid
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Friday said no deal has been worked out with Italy for bringing back the marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen but the government has "clarified" to authorities in Rome that the case does not entitle death penalty.
Khurshid credited his ministry, the Supreme Court and the position of his "senior" leaders for the return of the marines.
"We had no deal anywhere. No deal in Geneva, no deal in Colombo, no deal in Rome," Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi.
Speaking about the assurances given to Italian authorities about not giving death penalty to the two marines, he said, "We clarified, for their (Italian government) benefit and on their initiative, when they enquired and asked us, we clarified to them in writing that if the marines come back within the period that is given to them, which I believe is presumably till midnight March 22, they will be compliant with the SC order."
He said it was clarified that there is no question of any authority proceeding to do anything to them or arresting them.
The external affairs minister said the marines were "free to move in the country" to the extent limited by the Supreme Court. He said the other issue on which the Italians sought clarification was death penalty.
"We clarified that the nature of the alleged incident, for which they will be put on trial, is such, and jurisprudence of our country is very clear on it, that in such a case, there would not be death sentence. Because in the description that is being (given) of the rarest of the rarest cases, there is no place. We clarified that," Khurshid said.
"We didn't say we will not give you this sentence. We didn't say that. We said that our understanding is that this is not a case for rarest of rarest. We checked with the law officers... and we gave them only after the law officers" gave their opinion, Khurshid stressed.
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Image: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid
'We didn't say we will not give you this sentence'
Italy got itself into a diplomatic row with India after it said that the two marines accused of killing Indian fishermen in Kerala last year will not return despite their written assurances to the Supreme Court which had allowed them to return home to participate in local elections.
However, Italy had on Thursday night said it will send back to India the two marines to face trial after receiving an assurance from Indian government about the protection of their fundamental rights.
Khurshid said there are issues that arose because of Italy's initial refusal to send back the marines and "we don't have a final answer on that".
Referring to restrictions imposed on the Italian ambassador by the Supreme Court, Khurshid said the matter now doesn't stand as the situation has changed and hence the latest order might not apply. But he made it clear that anybody who submits himself to the court would have to comply with the decisions of the court.
He said that at the end of the day, the Supreme Court would have looked into the Vienna convention if there could be a violation but "now that doesn't apply".
"I think we were able to move in the right direction. And there is no reason why we should be taking credit in the ministry of external affairs alone," he said.
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Image: Italy on Thursday night said it will send back to India two marines to face trial for killing two fishermen in Kerala
'Don't write off diplomacy'
"We were at the forefront. We had to take the flak. We had to do the delivery, if at all the delivery was possible. And that is the attitude with which we went into it and that is the attitude that I still have," Khurshid said.
"The position taken by the Supreme Court of our country...had a contribution. The position taken by our senior leaders, I think have had a lot to do with it. I find it a little bit difficult to concede that postures and positions taken by the members of the opposition were responsible. If they think (so), then they should accept some congratulations, which they don't seem to be accepting," the minister said.
The government and the opposition clashed on Friday over who gets the credit for Italy sending back its two marines to India to face trial, a decision welcomed across the political spectrum. He said that despite immense political and public pressure, his ministry kept talking and channels of communication with Italy remained open.
Image: The matter is listed in Supreme Court on April 2