India expels U.S. diplomat as flap continues

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NEW DELHI -- India on Friday ousted a U.S. diplomat from the embassy, hours after the departure from the United States of an Indian consular officer who was asked to leave after she was indicted on charges of visa fraud.

The State Department confirmed that the unidentified American diplomat had left New Delhi "at the request of the government of India" and voiced a mix of disappointment at the apparent tit-for-tat move and cautious optimism that it could settle the bitter month-long dispute.

"We deeply regret that the Indian government felt it was necessary to expel one of our diplomatic personnel," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "This has clearly been a challenging time in the U.S.-India relationship. We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will take significant steps with us to improve our relationship."

The Indian consular officer, Devyani Khobragade, 39, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment of a domestic worker.

She is accused of trying to circumvent U.S. wage requirements by submitting to visa authorities a falsified contract for her nanny, Sangeeta Richard, whom she brought from India to work in her home.

Indian officials late Thursday said Ms. Khobragade -- who had been working as India's deputy consul general in New York -- would arrive in India early today. Her husband and children are U.S. citizens.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter, said the State Department asked India to arrange Ms. Khobragade's departure from the country hours before the indictment was announced.

In New Delhi, meanwhile, officials asked the United States to withdraw a diplomat they said was involved in problematic U.S. actions last month, including the evacuation of Ms. Richard's family. They said his rank was similar to Ms. Khobragade's. Neither government would publicly identify the expelled U.S. diplomat, but officials said he is Wayne May, head of the embassy's diplomatic security contingent, who has been in India since 2010.

The diplomat allegedly took "unilateral actions" to speed the departure from India of Ms. Richard's family so they could be with her in New York and violated other procedures in a bid to help her, said an Indian official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity. He gave no details.

"In India, this will be seen as legitimate and reciprocal response, because our diplomat was sent out of the United States; today's action by India evens the field," said Lalit Mansingh, a former ambassador to the United States. "Now, we should get back to our strategic partnership."

Ms. Psaki expressed similar sentiments. "We are eager to move forward," she said.

Ms. Khobragade's arrest last month -- she was handcuffed, strip-searched and briefly incarcerated -- outraged Indians across the political spectrum.

Senior officials called her treatment "barbaric" and "inhuman," and the government took several steps to show its displeasure, including removing security barricades outside the U.S. Embassy and investigating the working spouses of some U.S. diplomats.

The spat has threatened to derail Washington's relationship with India, which President Barack Obama in 2010 called "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

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