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Armitage apologises to Fernandes
Tribune News Service

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha  L. K. Advani with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha L. K. Advani with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday. — PTI photo

New Delhi, July 14
The visiting US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr Richard Armitage, today telephoned former Defence Minister George Fernandes and apologised for the latter’s strip-searching twice during his official visits to the USA in 2002 and 2003.

Mr Armitage told reporters after he finished his call on Leader of the Opposition L K Advani that he was “horrified” about the incidents. “On the way in the car here, I had the opportunity to telephone my old friend George Fernandes and told him I had heard about the problem he had. I was horrified about it and I personally apologised to him,” he said.

The disclosure about Mr Fernandes’ strip-searching came, not from Mr Fernandes, but from former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Mr Talbott wrote in his just-published book that Mr Fernandes was strip-searched twice at Duless airport when he was Defence Minister, once on an official visit to Washington in early 2002 and another time while en route to Brazil in mid-2003.

After Mr Talbott’s disclosure, Mr Fernandes had confirmed the incidents and said that he would never visit the USA again.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy here described Mr Fernandes as a “cherished friend of the US” and said the former Defence Minister was not strip-searched but a security wand was waved over him when a key in his pocket set off the metal detector at a US airport last year.

“From the information available to us, the minister was not strip-searched but did have a security wand waved over him when a key in his pocket set off the metal detector. Mr Fernandes played an important role in the burgeoning US-India relationship and we consider him a cherished friend of the US,” the embassy spokesman said.

The spokesman said as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the USA, existing procedures governing the entry of foreign visitors were thoroughly re-evaluated.

“We regret any inconvenience that may have been caused during the implementation process. There is in place an established procedure whereby Heads of State, Government ministers and other foreign dignitaries are accorded special diplomatic procedures upon entry to the US provided they furnish appropriate advance notice of their travel,” he said.

“We are sorry that these procedures were not observed in the case of the Defence Minister’s 2003 transit to the US, and regret any inconvenience caused,” he added.
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No striptease, only search’

New Delhi, July 14
As a controversy raged over his frisking at the New York Airport last year, former Defence Minister George Fernandes today denied he underwent a “striptease”.

“Nothing like striptease happened there,” he told reporters here referring to the book authored by former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott which says that the then Defence Minister was “strip-searched” twice. Mr Fernandes said he was asked to remove his coat, shoes and socks which he did.

“Then I was asked to spread my arms and then raise them,” he said, adding after that “khel khatam ho gaya (the drama ended)”.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said he was not aware of the controversial searching of former Defence Minister — PTI
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