In­dia blocks US of­fi­cials’ visit de­spite warmer ties

Hu­man traf­fick­ing is­sue still re­mains a thorn in ties

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON/NEW DELHI: De­spite a much­her­alded fresh start in US-In­dia ties un­der In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, a diplo­matic source said on Fri­day the United States has run into prob­lems ar­rang­ing vis­its by two se­nior of­fi­cials, re­call­ing a diplo­matic spat that soured re­la­tions two years ago. Wash­ing­ton has been seek­ing to send Susan Coppedge, its newly ap­pointed anti-peo­ple traf­fick­ing am­bas­sador, and Randy Berry, its spe­cial en­voy for LGBT rights, to New Delhi this month.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing has caused fric­tion be­tween the United States and In­dia. The coun­tries also dis­agree on gay rights, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion promotes, while ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in In­dia is il­le­gal. The source, who did not want to iden­ti­fied, said the vis­its had run into prob­lems. “Th­ese vis­its were planned, they were meant to be here around this time. But there were some is­sues,” the source said. The State Depart­ment de­clined for­mal com­ment but a depart­ment of­fi­cial said the two sides were “work­ing to co­or­di­nate the best tim­ing.”

In­dia’s For­eign Min­istry did not re­spond to re­quest for com­ment and In­dian Am­bas­sador Arun K Singh did not of­fer clar­i­fi­ca­tion when asked on Thurs­day about Coppedge’s plan to visit, which was re­vealed at a Nov 4 con­gres­sional hear­ing by Kari John­stone, prin­ci­pal deputy di­rec­tor of the State Depart­ment’s traf­fick­ing of­fice.

“We’ll see,” Singh told re­porters. “When you ask a US of­fi­cial when some­body will be given a visa, they al­ways say ‘we will as­sess when visa is ap­plied for.’ ... I can do no bet­ter than to re­it­er­ate the US po­si­tion.” The hu­man traf­fick­ing is­sue blew up in 2013 over the ar­rest of an In­dian diplo­mat, Devyani Kho­bra­gade, for visa fraud and un­der­pay­ing a do­mes­tic worker who was later given a US. “T visa” is­sued to traf­fick­ing vic­tims.

Kho­bra­gade’s ar­rest and strip search pro­voked an out­cry in In­dia and the is­sue has fes­tered, al­though US-In­dia re­la­tions have strength­ened since Modi came to power in May 2014, with both sides stress­ing shared strate­gic in­ter­ests. US of­fi­cials say In­dian cit­i­zens who have been is­sued US T visas have been sub­ject to re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing long de­lays in re­new­ing pass­ports at In­dian con­sulates in the United States. Be­tween July 2014 and March 2015, the crack­down was harsher, with au­thor­i­ties at In­dian air­ports con­fis­cat­ing at least 20 pass­ports stamped with US T visas con­fis­cated. This pre­vented traf­fick­ing vic­tims who went home to col­lect their fam­i­lies from re­turn­ing to the United States.

Berry is Wash­ing­ton’s first gay-rights am­bas­sador and a US of­fi­cial said no traf­fick­ing czar had vis­ited In­dia for the past eight years. The In­dia am­bas­sador played down the im­pact of the traf­fick­ing is­sue on US-In­dia re­la­tions, say­ing th­ese were “at a very good stage now.” with two vis­its by Modi to the United States, and Obama be­com­ing the first US pres­i­dent to visit In­dia twice while in of­fice.

“Th­ese are all reflections of where the re­la­tion­ship is headed,” he said. In­dia was happy to work in an in­ter­na­tional frame­work to tackle the prob­lem of traf­fick­ing, but re­jected “uni­lat­eral as­sess­ments” of an­other coun­try,” he said.

“We will never ac­cept it,” he said. — Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR: In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi speaks at the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Busi­ness and In­vest­ment Sum­mit in Kuala Lumpur yes­ter­day. — AP

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