US Energy Secretary Cancels India Trip Amid Strain in Ties


File photo of U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, United States:  U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Jan. 8 canceled his crucial trip to India next week in view of the strained bilateral ties over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat on alleged visa fraud charges, the most serious fallout of the ordeal yet.

Moniz’s planned visit to India next week has been delayed, an Energy Department official said.

The India-U.S. Energy Dialogue to be led by Moniz was expected to make significant progress in energy cooperation and export of American shale gas to India.

It would be rescheduled for a mutually convenient date later, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

“We place great emphasis, as you know, on the U.S.-India energy partnership. It was an issue when the Secretary (of State, John Kerry) was there, and he even gave a speech talking about these issues — a key element of our strategic partnership,” Psaki said Jan. 8.

“In view of these important matters and in order to find the time to allow both sides to deliver on the important issues that we need to from both sides, we’re looking for a mutually convenient time in the near future that will permit both sides to do that,” she said.

“We remain committed to holding this dialogue and we’ll look for a time to hold it,” Psaki said.

Ties between India and the U.S. have suffered a setback after the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York on alleged visa fraud charges last month and her strip search in custody as is common practice according to the U.S. Marshals.

The cancellation of Moniz’s trip comes after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal delayed her first visit to India, due on Jan. 6.

Moniz’s visit for the India-U.S. Energy Dialogue was considered an important one for both the countries after a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in White House in September last year.

Both the leaders had identified cooperation in the energy sector as an important pillar of the India-U.S. Strategic Partnership. In fact, clean energy was the focus of Kerry’s India visit last summer.

During their meeting, Obama and Singh had discussed ways to strengthen bilateral efforts to promote energy efficiency, clean energy, and address climate change.

The U.S.-India Energy Dialogue was launched on May 31, 2005 to promote increased trade and investment in the energy sector. Five working groups had been set up under the initiative in the areas of oil and gas, coal, power and energy efficiency, new technologies and renewable energy and civil nuclear cooperation.

Another working group on ‘sustainable development’ was added recently. The last India-U.S. Energy Dialogue took place in September 2012.

Preparations were on to make significant progress on the U.S. giving approval for LNG export to India during this visit, sources said. India has been pushing the U.S. to expedite this process to meet its galloping energy needs.

The now postponed India-U.S. Energy Dialogue was also expected to implement the decisions taken by Obama and Singh with regard to clean energy.

Various news sources said the announcement comes after India chipped away at America’s diplomatic perks Jan. 8, ordering the envoys to obey local traffic laws and warning that a popular U.S. Embassy club violates diplomatic law because it is open to outsiders.

Some of the retaliatory moves, such as preventing the American Center from screening movies, are seen as little more than needling the U.S. But other actions have raised some alarm, including the removal of concrete traffic barriers around the U.S. Embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards.

On Jan. 8, India ordered the U.S. to stop all “commercial activities” by Jan. 16 at the American Community Support Association club. The club has a restaurant, bar, bowling alley, swimming pool and other amenities. India says the fact that non-diplomats can join the club, at a cost of more than $1,300 per year, violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. endeavors to always comply with local laws and regulations, and is reviewing India’s requests for action. She declined to criticize India, and maintained that “both sides want to move this relationship forward.”

New Delhi warned that U.S. Embassy vehicles would not be immune to penalties for traffic offenses such as unauthorized parking and running red lights.

By indiawest