New Delhi: The US has apologised to former President A P J Abdul Kalam who was twice subjected to frisking at New York airport by American security officials who even took his jacket and shoes to check for explosives, an incident that left India fuming.

"We deeply regret the inconvenience that resulted for him (Kalam) as a result of the September 29 incident involving the security screening at JFK Airport in New York," a statement from the US Embassy here said, noting that it had the utmost respect for Kalam.

80-year-old Kalam was frisked in New York on September 29 before boarding an Air India flight.

Sources said that even after Kalam had taken his seat in the aircraft, the US security personnel forced the crew to open the door and took away the jacket and boots of the former President to check for explosives since they had forgotten to do so before his boarding. The items were later returned to Kalam.

Outraged at the frisking incident, India on Sunday threatened retaliatory action against US dignitaries unless such "unacceptable" practices were stopped.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna spoke to Indian Ambassador to US Nirupama Rao and directed her to take up the matter in writing at the "highest level" with Washington.

In its damage control exercise, the US came out with a written apology to Kalam and the Indian government, saying ‘appropriate procedure for expedited screening of dignitaries had not been followed’.

They also said that US was actively working to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.

The US said that subsequent to the frisking incident, US Charge d' Affaires here Peter Burleigh personally hand delivered a letter from the US Transportation Security Administrator to Kalam and a similar letter was delivered to the government of India regretting the incident.

Maintaining that it ‘deeply values and appreciates’ the strong relationship and partnership with India, the US said, "We are confident that despite this regrettable incident, we will continue working closely with India in the many areas of our strategic partnership".

MEA officials said Krishna has sought a detailed report from its mission on the incident which they said was "unacceptable".

They further said that if this continues, there is a possibility of reciprocating as per diplomatic norms.

Sources close to Kalam said he doesn't give much thought to such incidents and never complains about them.

However, this time, his office informed the External Affairs ministry about the incident after he returned home.

This is not the first time that Kalam has been frisked by US aviation officials.

Kalam was frisked by officials of US airliner Continental Airlines in April, 2009 despite his name featuring in the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security's list of people exempt from security checks in India.

A detailed report on the latest incident was prepared by Air India's Director (Security) S Mathur and sent to the Civil Aviation Ministry which in turn forwarded it to the External Affairs Ministry in October.

"As the incident happened on American soil, I have been informed that US security agencies are investigating it. Such incidents should not happen," Civil Aviation Secretary Nasim Zaidi said.

An External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said officials of both the countries were working on ways to avoid recurrence of such incidents in future, including preparing a common list of VIPs.

BJP asked the government to take up the issue with the US saying this "cannot be tolerated".

"The way former President Kalam was treated was an insult to him. Government must take it up with the US," BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters.

Hussain said "such incidents are not happening for the first time. There are many such incidents. This cannot be tolerated."
 
Kalam not exempted from security screening: US

India and the US are planning to hold talks on appropriate mechanisms for security screening of dignitaries in the backdrop of frisking of A P J Abdul Kalam at a New York airport with Washington informing New Delhi that the former President was not exempted from security checks.

In a response to Kalam's frisking at JFK airport, official spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs said it had immediately lodged a protest over the incident after which the US wrote to the former President regretting the episode and assured Indian government that it was taking corrective steps to prevent such events.

Noting that Kalam was a regular visitor to USA and was returning home on September 29 by an Air India flight from New York, he said US authorities have explained that under existing US regulation, former President Abdul Kalam does not fall into the category of persons exempt from security screening.

"However, US authorities extended usual courtesies to him at the airport, including escort and private screening," he said.

After former President Kalam had entered the aircraft, US Transport Security Agency (TSA) agents requested Air India staff for President Kalam's jacket and shoes, reportedly as these had not been checked according to the prescribed procedure during the private screening, the spokesperson said.

Air India staff then sought the consent of Kalam, who had by then removed his jacket and shoes and settled in his seat, to hand them over to TSA authorities, he said, adding these personal belongings of former President Kalam were returned shortly thereafter.

"MEA had immediately lodged a protest over this incident with the US side.

The US Government has promptly written to former President Kalam expressing its deep regret over the incident and has assured Indian authorities that it is taking corrective steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future.

"The two governments are also planning to hold discussions to explore appropriate mechanisms for facilitating airport procedures for dignitaries, in accordance with national regulations," he said.

BJP asks Centre to take up issue with US

BJP asked the government to take up with the US the issue of former President APJ Abdul Kalam's frisking at New York's JFK airport to check for explosives in September, saying this "cannot be tolerated".

"The way former President Kalam was treated was an insult to him. Government must take it up with the US," BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters.

Kalam was twice subjected to frisking on September 29 at New York's JFK Airport by US security officials. Even after Kalam had taken his seat, the US security personnel forced the crew to open the door and took away the jacket and boots of the former President to check for explosives since they had forgotten to do so before his boarding an Air India flight.

Hussain said "such incidents are not happening for the first time. There are many such incidents. This cannot be tolerated."

This is not the first time that Kalam has been frisked by US aviation officials.

Kalam was frisked by officials of US airliner Continental Airlines in April, 2009 despite his name featuring in the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security's list of people exempt from security checks in India.

On a possible bailout package for cash-strapped Kingfisher airlines, Hussain said, "PM should have bailout package for aam admi (coommon man). Government should come out with a policy on sick industries. We are for bailout package for the common man of the country."

However, the former Civil Aviation Minister did not clarify BJP's stand on FDI in the civil aviation sector. "Earlier the government has not allowed FDI in civil aviation sector. We will wait for the government to clarify its policy on the issue and then only we will comment," he said when asked to spell out his view on the FDI issue.

On Telengana issue, he said there should not be any delay in the formation of a separate Telangana state.

Asked to comment on UP Chief Minister's Mayawati's Brahmin conference in the state, he said, "When elections come, she remembers Brahmins, Muslims and others. BJP does not believe in caste politics."

CPI(M) for reciprocal action against US diplomats

CPI(M) reacted strongly to the frisking of former President A P J Abdul Kalam at New York's JFK Airport and demanded "reciprocal action" against US diplomats here.

"We have said this before. America being America, it will have its ways. We only want to say that we should go for reciprocal action. When our ambassador was frisked, we should do the same with the US ambassador here. Any self-respectin country would do it," CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat told reporters.

Karat recalled his visit to Brazil a few years back when he was "pleasantly surprised" to see that there was a separate queue for US visitors to that country.

"Only the US citizens were being fingerprinted and photographed as they do the same to Brazilians (along with all other visitors) when they visit the US," Karat said.

Kalam, who was not in the US list of Indian VVIPs, was frisked twice -- including once in the aircraft -- during his visit to that country. This has led to protests from India.

The US has apologised and asked for a new list of VVIPs who should not be frisked.

(JPN/Agencies)