Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, is at the centre of a worsening row between India and the US. Photo: Reuters
Washington: US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will no longer travel to India as planned next week, an official of the US Energy Department said on Wednesday, the most serious repercussion yet in a row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.
"I can confirm that Secretary Moniz is no longer traveling to India next week," the official told Reuters. "We have been in conversation with Indian counterparts about the dates, and we have agreed to hold the dialogue in the near future at a mutually convenient date."
Mr Moniz's trip is the latest and most serious casualty in an escalating row over the treatment of Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul in New York, after the Indian government on Wednesday ordered the US Embassy in New Delhi to cease commercial activities at a popular club for Americans on its premises.
The demand comes as US officials weigh whether to prosecute an Indian diplomat in New York on charges that she obtained fraudulent visa documents for her housekeeper and violated labour laws by paying her far below minimum wage.The case involving Ms Khobragade, the Indian deputy consul general in New York, has touched off a furore here and prompted officials in New Delhi to take a number of retaliatory steps against Americans in the Indian capital.
The newest move is to ban a club on embassy grounds from selling alcohol and other imported duty-free items to non-diplomats, one of the more popular services available to American expatriates in New Delhi. Indian authorities also asked the embassy to no longer allow non-diplomats to use the club's beauty salon, swimming pool, gym, tennis court and other facilities.
An Indian official in New Delhi said that offering those services to non-embassy personnel violated a Vienna convention governing diplomatic relations between nations.
"Under international diplomatic rules, you can have these services for diplomats but you cannot have them for non-diplomats," said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorised to discuss the matter publicly.
The embassy was told to enforce the policy by January 16.
Ms Khobragade, 39, has asked a federal judge in New York to extend by 30 days a January 13 deadline to proceed with the indictment against her, in order to allow plea discussions to continue. The US attorney prosecuting the case, Preet Bharara, has opposed the request.
Indian officials have called for all charges to be dropped and say they are seeking a new visa for Ms Khobragade that would give her full diplomatic immunity.
In the meantime India has imposed a series of restrictions on US personnel in New Delhi. Authorities removed traffic barricades outside the embassy and asked Americans to cease screening movies at its social club without obtaining the necessary licenses from Indian censors.