“Don’t touch my turban,” Hardeep Puri tells US security

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NEW YORK - Amid a brewing row over ‘pat down’ screening of diplomats, India’s permanent representative to the UN, Hardeep Puri has confirmed that he was briefly held up at a US airport last month, but there was no pat down.

“No pat down took place” though Airport security officials at Austin, Texas did ask to check his turban during a visit Nov 13, Puri told reporters in New York.

Puri told the officials that under the new rules he was allowed to check his own turban and agents could then run a check of his hands for traces of explosives. “I said I would comply with the procedures but did not allow them to touch my turban,” Puri said. “The guard there was unaware of the new procedures so I told him to go check with his superior officer.”

The official then went to check with his senior. When the official returned after Puri was kept waiting for 20-25 minutes, he acknowledged that indeed there was such a provision and the envoy was allowed to check his own turban. “The important thing here is that I did not let them touch my turban,” he said.

However, Foreign Policy magazine cited an Indian official who witnessed the incident as saying airport security agents in Austin pulled Singh aside into an enclosed glass holding room for questioning after he refused a request to remove his turban or allow inspectors to touch it.

“He said no, you cannot check my turban,” the unnamed Indian official was quoted as saying. “I won’t allow you to touch my turban.”

The Indian official said Puri offered to touch the turban himself and to

allow the security agents to run a check of his hands for traces of explosives, but he said that one security official refused.Singh insisted that the security official had no right to check his turban, citing Transport Security Adminsitration regulations for searches of foreign diplomats.

“Obviously you don’t know your own rules. Please check your rules,” he told the security agent, according to the Indian official. “The person insisted that he had to do it. He said, ‘Don’t tell me the rules.’” The Indian official was quoted as saying that the security officials finally checked the security regulations and issued an apology to Puri. Foreign Policy said a spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations, Mark Kornblau, declined to comment on the specifics of the incident but said the US regretted his treatment.

“We have a great deal of respect for Ambassador Puri and regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Filed under: Diplomacy

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