Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Obama nominates Indian-American as ambassador to India

President Barack Obama nominated former State Department official Richard Verma as U.S. ambassador to India, just ahead of a visit to Washington by new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a White House statement said. Verma, an Indian-American, served as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs at the State Department in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011. He is currently a senior counselor at Steptoe & Johnson law firm and the Albright Stonebridge Group, a business advisory company, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He will be the first Indian-American to do the job. If he is confirmed by Congress, Verma will replace Nancy Powell, who resigned in March after a damaging row over the treatment of a junior Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, who was accused by authorities in New York of visa fraud and underpaying a domestic worker. Khobragade was arrested and strip-searched in New York last year, an incident that took the U.S.-India relationship to its lowest ebb in a decade. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is currently headed by a charge d’ Affairs, Kathleen Stephens. Modi is due to visit Washington Sept. 29-30 for a trip aimed at revitalizing ties and clearing the air.


Newsline: Indian diplomat’s daughter scores $225K over wrongful arrest in New York

The daughter of an Indian diplomat has scored a $225,000 settlement from the Big Apple over her wrongful 2011 arrest on cyberbullying charges. The settlement agreement, OK’d by Manhattan federal Judge John Koetl this week, also praises Krittika Biswas for being an honor student while at John Bowne HS in Queens. Biswas, now 21, was suspended, arrested and forced to spend a day in jail during her senior year in February 2011, after being accused of sending profane and threatening e-mails to her teachers. Her charges were dropped after a male classmate was fingered as the real culprit. She had sought $1.5 million in her 2012 suit against the city and school officials while alleging the investigation leading to her arrest was a “sham,” and lacking any real evidence. Biswas has since moved back to India. She is the daughter of Debashish Biswas, who was vice counsel at the Consulate General of India in Manhattan at the time of her arrest.


Newsline: Russian embassy official became victim of theft from baggage in India

Lose a phone at Indira Gandhi International Airport and many of us may give up hope of ever finding it. So it is natural that a Russian embassy official was pleasantly surprised when he got a call from airport about the recovery of his phone. He was a victim of a theft racket which is thriving in the airport. The involvement of airport employees in the racket has been noted by the security agency. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) got a tip off that a ground staff had stolen a high-end phone from a flight that flew in from Moscow. After recovering the phone, CISF called up the owner and found that he is with Russian embassy and had arrived from Moscow.


Newsline: Israeli consul in India spooked by lack of police presence

In an incident that has caused major embarrassment for the Pune police force, Matan Zamir, deputy chief mission, Consulate General of Israel in India, who was in the city to deliver a talk refused to go ahead with his speech, saying he was not provided with adequate security at the venue. Organisers of the India-Israel Friendship Forum (IIFF) have blamed the police, alleging that they did not take enough cognisance of the programme, and that they should have provided security well in advance, given the present situation in Gaza. Ranjeet Natu, secretary, IIFF said, “We had sent an application regarding the talk to the Pune police last week and the embassy too had spoken to them. However, they obviously paid no heed. This is complete negligence on their part.” When Zamir came to know of the inadequate security, he refused to come to the venue. “He informed us that unless he feels secure and is provided with adequate police security, he would not attend the programme,” one of the organisers told Mirror.


Newsline: Suriname opens consulate in Bangalore

The embassy of Suriname opened a consulate in Bangalore, and a gala event was held to mark the occasion. Asif Iqbal has been appointed as honorary consul of the venue, which has been opened to provide assistance to Suriname nationals, Indians travelling to Suriname to visit families, and cultural groups visiting the South American country.


Newsline: Lithuania tells India to honour embassy pledge

Lithuania’s foreign minister has asked India to stand true to its promise of starting an embassy in Vilnius. The assurance was given in 2005 by then Indian external affairs minister K Natwar Singh. Currently, the Indian mission for Lithuania is based out of Warsaw, Poland. A ‘lack of funds’ has prevented India from opening an embassy in Vilnius. In an exclusive interview to TOI, foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said Lithuania opened its embassy in New Delhi in 2008, amid the deepest financial crisis of modern times. “With bilateral and economic ties between India and Lithuania growing steadily, it is time for India to start an embassy in Vilnius,” Linkevicius said. “Around 3,000 Lithuanian citizens travel to India each year. For visas, they have to send their passports to Poland, which is inconvenient. An Indian mission in Vilnius will be highly welcome. ” Linkevicius also extended an invitation to his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, to visit Lithuania.


Newsline: US says diplomatic incident has developed closer ties with India

The US has said the aftermath of last year’s Khobragade incident has led to the development of closer ties and closer communication with India. “I think that despite the fact that we had this very uncomfortable and unfortunate situation that we had to work through, at the end of the day I think we have developed closer ties and closer communication with our two systems as a result,” Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal said. We have certainly spent many, many long hours discussing with our Indian colleagues ways to ensure that we have greater understandings and greater clarity about our expectations of each other under each other’s laws and under each other’s systems, she said. Ms Khobragade, a 1999 India Foreign Service officer and mother of two daughters has now returned to India. However, the US has still not withdrawn the allegations against her. Both Ms Khobragade and the Indian Government has denied those charges. Ms Khobragade’s arrest, particularly reports that she was handcuffed in front of her children’s school and strip-searched while in detention, infuriated the Indian public. Washington, for its part, was taken aback by the fierce Indian reaction, which included withdrawing diplomatic privileges for US diplomats and removing security barriers at the US embassy in New Delh.