Top US leadership feels diplomat row 'most stupid thing to do'

Top US leadership feels diplomat row 'most stupid thing to do'

Recognising the damage that the diplomat row has done to the India-US relationship, there is a realisation in the top American leadership that "it was the most stupid thing to do" on their part and that they would now have to "work overtime" to bring back the ties on track.

As Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade landed in New Delhi last night, there was a sense of relief in the US government, with officials expressing their determination to move forward the relationship, which President Barack Obama has described as the defining partnership of the 21st century.

"The US and India enjoy a broad and deep friendship, and this isolated episode is not indicative of the close and mutually respectful ties that we share," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Obama, sources said, was regularly updated on the development and National Security Advisor Susan Rice too was monitoring the situation; so was Secretary of State John Kerry, it is believed.

"This has clearly been a challenging time in the US-India relationship. We expect and hope that this will now come to closure and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place," State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

Arrested on December 12, Khobragade, 39, was strip- searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.

Now that the Khobragade has returned to India, sources told PTI that there was "furious" reaction in the top American leadership when this was first brought to their notice on December 12, the day Khobragade was arrested in New York on charges of visa fraud and misrepresentation of facts.

"It was one of the most stupid thing to do," a top American leader is learnt to have said, referring to the damage the diplomat's case has done to India-US ties.

In fact a source pointed that the level of "furious reaction" in the top American leadership was similar to that of India.     "If the Indians were furious, so were we."

It is one of the reasons why Kerry, in the middle of his overseas trip, made it a point to reach out to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. Since he was not available at that time, Kerry spoke with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.

During the conversation, Kerry is believed to have apologised for the incident, sources said.

But the public statement issued by the State Department noted that Kerry expressed his regret to Menon.

However, the strong Indian reaction did not go down well in the US as well.

"There are stupid people on our side. There are stupid people on your side too," sources said.

"The overwhelming opinion was this should not have happened. The sense was that there was a sectorial bureaucracy, which pursued an issue and the people who had the big picture, either had taken the eyes off the ball or were in the middle of transition," said another source familiar with the conversation happening at the senior level of US government and among the lawmakers.

"For whatever reason, the big picture guys did not stop the sectorial bureaucracy at the time when people should have said, look where is this issue going," sources said, adding the sentence "that this should not have happened" is being said both at the Hill and the corridor of powers here.

Sources said the case was handled by those people who did not had the sense what would be the repercussions of such an action. And by the time it came to the notice of the top US leadership, it had entered the domain of the judiciary.
This coupled with a strong retaliatory action by India, sources said, tied down their hands.

One sentiment encountered at fairly senior level in Washington was a feeling that nobody needed this problem and that this was badly handed.

"Now that it has happened, we need to resolve this. The thought is there that we need to make sure that such things do not happen again," sources said.

There was a growing sense in the Obama Administration yesterday that they would like to put this episode behind them and move forward as quickly as possible.

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