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India aviation safety downgrade unrelated to diplomatic row: US

Washington, Feb 1 (IANS) Asserting that the US downgrade of India’s aviation regulator had “absolutely nothing” to do with the Khobragade affair, Washington says it was committed to help India get its status back as soon as possible.

“This absolutely had nothing to do with the ongoing case of Dr. Khobragade,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Friday when asked if the US action would hurt efforts to restore ties with India after their worst diplomatic spat over the Dec 12 arrest of an Indian diplomat.

The diplomatic row was sparked by the arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade, 39, India’s then deputy consul general in New York.

She was asked to return home Jan 10 after India declined to waive her diplomatic immunity to enable her prosecution charges of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper even as she was indicted by a grand jury in New York.

“Again, this was a regulatory decision,” she said referring to the US Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) downgrade of the safety ranking of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) from category-I to category-II rating.

“I don’t know how much leeway we have in those,” Harf said when asked if it was not possible to try and defer the FAA decision amid efforts to repair frayed relations over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade.

“But it’s my understanding that this was all made inside a regulatory framework that has very specific criteria countries have to meet under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards that we’re all party to,” she said.

“These aren’t our standards,” Harf said commenting on India’s expression of disappointment over the FAA decision.

“They’re the ICAO standards everyone has to live under, and we’re committed to working with India to help them get back to a Category I rating,” she said.

On the broader question of relationship Harf said: “we’re all committed to moving on to working together on all of the issues we work on all the time.”

“A number of folks obviously have talked to our Indian counterparts over the last few weeks, and I think we’re all committed right now to moving the relationship forward and really focusing on working together,” she said.

The spokesperson made three points relating to the FAA decision.

“First is that both the US and India are fully committed to restoring India to a Category I rating as soon as possible,” Harf said, noting “there is currently an FAA team in India, in part to discuss how to go about doing just that”.

“The second, that this decision was made within a regulatory framework,” she said. “Third, the United States and India remain fully committed to cooperation in civil aviation.”

Harf said the process of consultations and discussions with India over the issue “began many months ago. The assessment was conducted in New Delhi in September. The assessment team returned to India on Dec 11 for follow-up discussion”.

“Our understanding is that while India has indeed made significant progress, a determination was made that it was not enough to meet the ICAO standards, hence the step that we saw today,” she said.

“But again, we’re committed to working with India to get them to take the necessary steps to get back to a Category I rating,” Harf said.

Asked if India was given a deadline to fix the issues, she said: “I don’t know if there was a specific deadline, but I think that the FAA team and the folks made absolutely clear what the Indians needed to do to maintain their Category I rating.

“They were not able to do so. We’re working with them right now to get them back on track.”

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