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India's US ambassador quits amid diplomatic row

Resignation may be linked to Indian diplomat's earlier arrest in US

Swati Deb and AFP, New Delhi

Swati Deb and AFP, New Delhi

Updated: March 31, 2014 10:59 PM GMT
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India's US ambassador quits amid diplomatic row

US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, resigned amid a bitter diplomatic dispute between the nations.

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The United States ambassador to India resigned last night in the wake of a diplomatic dispute between the two nations following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York in December.

Nancy Powell submitted her resignation to President Obama on March 31. In a brief statement published on the US embassy website, the ambassador said her decision was “planned for some time,” and that she will retire by the end of May to her home state of Delaware.

She has been ambassador for less than two years.

The resignation comes after a diplomatic standoff between the two countries that began in December when Indian diplomat Devayani Khobragade was arrested, strip searched and briefly jailed in New York on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her Indian housekeeper.

US diplomats came under criticism for not responding more quickly and forcefully to calm the furore after Khobragade's arrest, which led to Indian countermeasures against US diplomats.

Khobragade returned to India under a deal, but prosecutors went ahead in March with a second indictment.

A US congressional aide told AFP that Powell has found it difficult to arrange meetings with Indian officials since Khobragade's arrest.

In February, Powell broke a US taboo by meeting with Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and candidate for prime minister of the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party.

The US had earlier refused Modi a visa on human rights grounds over anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Despite the controversy in Washington over Modi, most policymakers agreed that the US needed to reach out to him due to the likelihood that he will become prime minister.

US state department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf refuted all media speculations on the resignation at the daily briefing.

"There is no big story behind the scene here," said Harf. "I want to dispel any rumors out there that this is related in any way to anything besides her long-planned retirement.”

Political analysts said the US administration is uneasy with recent Indo-US ties.

“The United States sees India as a natural ally on a range of issues and a potential counterbalance to China and Russia. But lately even India’s response on the Russian attack on Crimea was not the US line,” senior journalist Shivesh Garg said.

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