It has been a bad 24 hours for India-US ties, with a New York judge denying Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade an extension on the January 13 deadline for preliminary hearing in the visa fraud case against her, and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz putting on hold next week’s travel plans.
India is now keeping its fingers crossed, hoping the US will approve Khobragade’s G-1 visa before January 13, but so far there are no positive indications about the visa status.
Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in a three-page order on Wednesday said the original deadline of 30 days for filing of charges stays.
This is a setback as it narrows down the window that India views as crucial, within which US has to give Khobragade a G-1 visa to accompany her UN accreditation. Based on the G-1 visa, local authorities would have issued an identity document that would have given Khobragade full diplomatic immunity from arrests and court appearances. According to Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, there were still “options” left, with more motions likely to be filed.
Meanwhile in Delhi, it is felt that had Khobragade received extension on the date on which charges against her would be filed, it would have given time for manoeuvre to resolve the issue. But, now there is effectively only two working days left before the hearing, by which time she must receive the G-1 visa, or else face long-drawn court proceedings.
If the visa is not approved before January 13, it will also be taken as a signal “that US wants to escalate the issue further”, an official source said.
“It’s now more than 20 days. They have to take a call... They are only being asked to give visa for a diplomat who has already been accredited to the UN,” the source added.
Meanwhile, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s visit to India to attend the annual energy dialogue, co-chaired by deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has been put on hold. “In order to find time to allow both sides to deliver on the important issues that we need to, from both sides, we’re looking for a mutually convenient time in the near future that will permit both sides to do that,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Relations won’t be affected, says U.S.
Appearing unfazed by India’s strong response on the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “We continue to believe that we can maintain our strong historic relationship and that is what our focus is.”