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U.S. energy secretary's trip to India postponed amid tensions over diplomat

By Jethro Mullen and Kevin Liptak, CNN
updated 6:16 AM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz delivers a speech in Austria in September.
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz delivers a speech in Austria in September.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: India orders a club at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to halt commercial activities
  • U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will no longer visit India next week, an official says
  • The postponement comes amid tensions over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York
  • Indian officials have expressed outrage that the female diplomat was strip-searched

(CNN) -- U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz's planned visit to India next week has been delayed, an Energy Department official said Wednesday.

The postponement of the trip comes amid tensions between New Delhi and Washington over the treatment of an Indian diplomat who was arrested in New York last month on charges of fraud and making false statements on a visa application for her former housekeeper.

"I can confirm that Secretary Moniz is no longer traveling to India next week," the Energy Department official said. "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."

Indian officials expressed outrage last month when news emerged that Devyani Khobragade, the country's deputy consul general in New York, had been strip-searched by U.S. law enforcement officials after her arrest.

India-U.S. relations tense after arrest
U.S. 'regrets' diplomat's strip search
Arrest sparks diplomatic feud

READ: Strip-searched Indian diplomat's attorney accuses U.S. of 'muscle-flexing'

They have demanded that the United States apologize and drop the charges against Khobragade, whose lawyer says she is innocent and entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Amid the uproar over the issue in the local media last month, Indian authorities expressed their displeasure by removing concrete barriers from outside the U.S. Embassy and taking away American diplomats' identification cards.

Moniz's postponed India trip appears to be a high-profile result of the fallout from the dispute.

In another move, Indian authorities ordered the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to halt commercial activities at a club on its property by January 16, an Indian external affairs official said Thursday.

The official said the multipurpose American club in the embassy compound was being used by nondiplomats, which contravenes an article of the Vienna Convention.

Despite the pressure, U.S. officials say there are no plans to drop the case against Khobragade, who is accused of paying her former housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, a fraction of the amount promised in the visa application and telling Richard to keep quiet about the situation.

They have said Khobragade is entitled to consular immunity, which is less broad than diplomatic immunity and covers only actions carried out under official duties.

Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "regret" about the situation last month, but stopped short of saying the United States had done anything wrong.

Human rights activists say Indian authorities' anger about Khobragade being strip-searched misses the bigger issue of her alleged wrongdoing with regard to Richard. They say the mistreatment of domestic workers is a widespread and often overlooked problem around the world.

Indian and U.S. officials have repeatedly said that they hope the situation won't undermine relations between the two countries in the long term.

"We place great emphasis on the U.S.-India energy partnership, which is a key element of the overall strategic partnership," the Energy Department official said Wednesday.

The talks between the two sides are aimed at exchanging views "on clean and renewable energy, civilian nuclear energy, regional energy projects, and a host of other topics that are essential to the well-being and prosperity of both our peoples," the official said.

Opinion: India overreacts to diplomat's arrest

CNN"s Harmeet Shah Singh contributed to this report.

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