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The 3 options available to US in Devyani case

By Lalit K Jha
January 07, 2014 15:45 IST
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Devyani KhobragadeEven as prosecutors are pressing for indictment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on January 13, three possible options for resolving the issue are believed to be under discussion within the US administration.

Topping the three options is giving full diplomatic immunity to Khobragade, who was arrested in New York on December 12 on charges of visa fraud and misrepresentation, by accepting her credentials to the UN before the criminal charges are filed against her by the Department of Justice, sources said.

This is said to be the preferred option under present circumstances and is believed to be supported by those in the administration who are ardent supporters of India-US relationship and do not want the Devyani episode to derail the strengthening ties between the two countries.

The second option is to accept the UN transfer of 39-year-old Khobragade only after she is criminally charged. This would give some tense moments to both the Indian diplomat and also New Delhi, sources said.

The State Department had received the necessary paper work for the UN transfer of Khobragade on December 20. More than a fortnight after that the State Department continues to review the paper work and is taking an unusually long time.

The final option is to refuse to accept Khobragade's UN transfer due to pending criminal charges, the sources said.

Though the least preferred option, it is said to be advocated by those in the administration who want to "teach a lesson" to India for taking up retaliatory measures against the only super power of the world by removal of security barriers outside its Embassy in New Delhi and withdrawing privileges of its diplomats.

Though, currently in minority, supporters of the third option argue that other countries might soon follow the Indian path, if Washington does not take strong action against New Delhi.

However, sources said, no final decision has been taken as yet and it is very possible that a high-level intervention might be required to take a final call on resolving the issue.

The third option, friends of India-US ties in Washington argue, would derail the bilateral relationship at least for the next several years.

Khobragade has sought a one-month extension of the deadline for charging her in the visa fraud case but her plea has been opposed by the prosecution.

The US has categorically ruled out "apology" and "withdrawal" of charges against Khobragade.

The officials from both India and the US are having discussions on two parallel tracks -- one which is on the diplomatic front led by the State Department and the other being handled by the Department of Justice which involves lawyers.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, who returned from their Christmas and New Year vacation, have started inquiring about what went wrong with the India-US ties.

While they are waiting for the issue to be resolved, Congressional sources said some of the lawmakers are gearing up to ask the administration about the basic facts of the Devyani case.

Meanwhile, eminent Indian-American attorney, Ravi Batra, urged the State Department to select the first option of granting full diplomatic immunity to Khobragade.

"I would request our State Department to select the first of its three discretionary options: accept Devyani's UN transfer and give her full immunity before any criminal charges are levied against her; accept Devyani's UN transfer after she is criminally charged; or refuse to accept Devyani's UN transfer due to pending criminal charges," Batra told PTI.

Khobragade, who was the deputy counsel general at the Indian Consulate in New York, was arrested and presented before the court following her arrest on a criminal complaint. The case was adjourned to January 13 for indictment or preliminary hearing.

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested for making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. She was released on a $250,000 bond.

India retaliated by downgrading privileges of a certain category of US diplomats among other steps last month.

Khobragade has been transferred from the Indian Consulate to India's Permanent mission to the UN and the State Department is currently reviewing her UN accreditation application.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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