Govt acts tough, delays sending new envoy to Italy

NEW DELHI (TIP): India on March 14 toughened its stand over Italy’s refusal to send back two marines accused of killing Kerala fishermen to face trial by stopping its new ambassador to Rome from joining duty. Highly placed government sources confirmed that senior diplomat Basant Gupta, who has been named ambassador to Italy, has been asked to stay put in India. Gupta was held back just a day ahead of his taking charge in Rome in what is effectively a retaliatory move by India. The move is seen as part of a review of bilateral ties in the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telling Parliament on Wednesday that Italy’s decision to renege on its commitment to the Supreme Court will have its consequences.

In fact, Gupta had earlier been asked to expedite his departure to Rome because the government felt his presence there would help in coordinating with Italy in the Agusta Westland chopper kickbacks investigations. Sources said the development could be a precursor to serious action against Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini for breach of trust, as indicated by foreign minister Salman Khurshid after his meeting with the PM. Mancini had given the undertaking in Supreme Court assuring the marines’ return.

New Delhi also took up the matter with EU as it briefed its ambassador here about the developments in a meeting. Earlier in the day, the foreign ministry said there was already a process underway to review ties with Italy. “We have initiated a study to review all aspects of our bilateral relations with Italy,” spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. “As far as we are concerned, we want Italy to accept that the commitment given before Supreme Court ought to be respected. Other things are secondary,” Akbaruddin said, maintaining the court’s decision to prevent Mancini from leaving the country did not violate any aspect of Vienna Convention.

Late in the evening, the foreign ministry again summoned Mancini and informed him about the Supreme Court directive that he not be allowed to leave the country. “He was told that the Supreme Court is aware of Italy’s note verbale about the marines not coming back and that the court had issued a notice restraining him from leaving the country,” sources said.The envoy, who accepted the notice, is learnt to have conveyed to Indian officials the position taken by Italy that under the Vienna Convention, his movement can’t be restricted. In the morning, Khurshid discussed the issue with the PM who was apparently of the view that the government had to contemplate some sort of action if the Italian government did not keep its promise.

Khurshid indicated after the meeting that some action may be taken against Mancini. Khurshid said after the meeting that everything would be done to maintain India’s “dignity and primacy”. Asked if the government would act against Mancini, Khurshid said, “We will. As we take steps, will let you know. We have to take steps and there is no question that we won’t take steps.”

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