WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called a top Indian official and voiced regret about the case of an Indian diplomat strip-searched after her arrest last week in New York on charges including visa fraud, the State Department said on Wednesday.
Kerry's call to Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, disclosed by the U.S. State Department, aimed to defuse a diplomatic crisis sparked by the Dec. 12 arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny, an Indian national.
"As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade's arrest," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement, referring to the Indian diplomat.
"In his conversation with National Security Advisor Menon, (Secretary Kerry) expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India," Harf added.
India has responded furiously to what it considers the degrading treatment of Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian consulate in New York, who complained of being stripped and forced to undergo "cavity searches" while in U.S. detention.
The Indian government took retaliatory measures on Wednesday that included a revision of work conditions of Indian nationals employed at U.S. consulates as well as a freeze on the import of duty-free alcohol.
On Tuesday, Indian authorities removed concrete security barriers that were used to prevent vehicles from driving at high speed near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The barriers would offer some protection against a suicide-bomb attack.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday the administration is looking into the arrest, "to ensure that all standard procedures were followed and that every opportunity for courtesy was extended."
The White House has told Indian officials it expects Delhi will "fulfil all its obligations," for the safety and security of U.S. diplomats in India, Carney said at the daily White House briefing.
Khobragade told colleagues in an email of "repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing" and being detained in a holding cell with petty criminals despite her "incessant assertions of immunity."
The U.S. Justice Department, on Tuesday confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched. A senior Indian government source has also said that the interrogation included a cavity search.
Daniel Arshack, Khobragade's lawyer in New York, said India has now appointed her to its permanent mission at the United Nations in a move that Arshack maintained gives her full diplomatic immunity from prosecution "for acts before or after the appointment."
The U.S. prosecutor in New York could not immediately be reached for comment on whether the U.S. government would accept this move, or whether, as India maintains, the appointment would allow the charges to be cleared up quickly.