In worsening row, India orders club closure, US delays trip

Friday, 10 January 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

REUTERS: The US Energy Secretary on Wednesday postponed a visit to India, while New Delhi ordered the US Embassy to close a club for expatriate Americans, as a worsening diplomatic row exposed fault lines between the world’s two most populous democracies. Furious at the arrest, handcuffing and strip search of its deputy consul in New York last month, India has reacted by curtailing privileges offered to US diplomats. The officer, Devyani Khobragade, was accused by prosecutors of underpaying her nanny and lying on a visa application. Nearly a month on, the dispute has started to affect the wider relationship between the countries, with two high-level visits by US officials postponed. US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal has delayed her first visit to India, which was due on 6 January, to avoid it becoming embroiled in the dispute. On Wednesday, an official of the US Energy Department said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would no longer travel to India as planned next week, the most serious repercussion yet in the row over Khobragade’s arrest. Both sides have said the relationship is important and will not be allowed to deteriorate - Washington needs New Delhi on its side as US troops pull out of Afghanistan and as a counterbalance to a rising China. Millions of Indians have made the United States their home and bilateral trade is worth about $ 100 billion a year. But the dispute over Khobragade has plunged the two countries into a crisis described by Indian media as the worst since New Delhi tested a nuclear device in 1998. The aim of Moniz’s trip was to promote trade and investment in the energy sector. The talks usually include discussions of civil nuclear trade between India and the United States. The Energy Department official called the energy partnership a key element of the overall strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed the importance of relations with India and said the United States “endeavours to always be in compliance with local laws and regulations. “We are continuing our conversations with the Indian Government with the importance of the broad strategic US-India partnership firmly in mind,” she said. India had already curtailed privileges offered to US diplomats to bring them in line with the treatment of Indian envoys to the United States. Since December, the US Ambassador in Delhi can be subjected to airport frisking and most consular staff have reduced levels of immunity. Concrete barriers were removed from a road near the US Embassy last month, apparently in retaliation for the loss of a parking spot for the Indian ambassador in Washington. India is also preparing to take steps against the embassy school, which it suspects may be employing some staff in violation of visa requirements, a government source said.