U.S. ambassador to India resigns after diplomatic row

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied that Nancy Powell's resignation was related to the arrest of a junior Indian diplomat in the United States in December

U.S. ambassador to India resigns after diplomatic row

World Bulletin/News Desk

The U.S. ambassador to India has resigned and will return to the United States after less than two years, with relations between the world's biggest democracies at their lowest ebb in more than a decade

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied that Nancy Powell's resignation was related to the arrest of a junior Indian diplomat in the United States in December.

Powell is a career diplomat who has held several postings in South Asia and became the ambassador to India in 2012.

Last month, she met Narendra Modi, the opposition candidate who is favourite to become India's next prime minister after elections that end in May.

The meeting ended a decade-long U.S. boycott of Modi and brought Washington's policy in line with other major powers that had shunned him because of deadly religious riots that occurred on his watch, but have now warmed to a man who has overseen fast economic growth in his home state of Gujarat.

The United States sees India as a natural ally on a range of issues and a potential counterbalance to China in Asia. Trade in goods was $63.7 billion last year, and U.S. vice-president Joseph Biden last year called for that to grow to half a trillion dollars in five years.

But trade relations were deteriorating even before the diplomatic row.

In India's eyes, Powell's tenure never recovered from the row over the arrest and subsequent strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York. Indian took retaliatory measures against the embassy, including removing the ambassador's exemption from airport security searches.

Many Indian officials felt Powell had mishandled the case, which was related to the low wages that Khobragade paid a domestic worker. The arrest was seen by both the Indian government and Modi as U.S. hypocrisy and arrogance.

In response, India clamped down on alleged legal infractions by the embassy, including the visa status of teachers at the American Embassy School, an institution central to the lives of many expatriate employees of U.S. corporations in Delhi.

NOT GETTING MEETINGS

Powell's meeting with Modi was delayed by two months because of the row, an aide to the candidate told Reuters.

"I had heard she wasn't really getting meetings with government officials after Khobragade. And that's an important part of the job. My sense is that would likely only continue with a new government," said a U.S. congressional aide who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak.

However, Harf told a regular State Department briefing: "It is in no way related to any tension, any recent situations ... This is the end of a distinguished 37-year career. I think after 37 years she deserves to retire."

During the fallout of the row over Khobragade's arrest, officials in New Delhi said India had bristled at Powell as soon as she was appointed in 2012, since she was not seen as a political appointee close to U.S. President Barack Obama, despite her decades of knowledge of South Asia.

In a conversation with Reuters in January, one official close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Powell as a "lemon" - a comment reflecting concerns in India that Obama was not serious about a friendship he once described as "a defining relationship of the 21st century".

The statement said Powell would return to the United States before the end of May, which is the deadline for a new Indian government to be formed.

The United States revoked Modi's travel visa following allegations he did not do enough to prevent at least 1,000 deaths during a spasm of Hindu-Muslim violence in 2002 in the state that he governs.

Modi has not yet been granted a visa but Nisha Biswal, the U.S. assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, has said he would be welcome to visit the United States if he became prime minister.

Last Mod: 31 Mart 2014, 23:28
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